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UPDATED: ICANN set to unleash top-level domains despite government criticism

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The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers understands criticism of its top-level domain expansion but will proceed with the move at midnight on Jan. 12, Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's president and CEO, said at a Jan. 11 discussion in Washington.

On Jan. 12, ICANN will begin to accept applications for new top-level domains to rival existing ones, such as .com and .org. Lawmakers and federal officials have expressed concern that companies will have to increase defensive registration of domain names to prevent rivals or cybersquatters from getting ahold of them first, which saps resources they would rather spend elsewhere.

Roland LaPlante, senior vice president and chief marketing officer at Afilias, a domain service provider, argued that the new system will benefit intellectual property owners. Operators of the new TLDs will use ICANN's global trademark clearinghouse to alert intellectual property owners when their trademarks are registered.

So hypothetically, LaPlante said, whoever registers the .sport domain will have to tell Hewlett-Packard if someone registers the domain name www.hewlettpackard.sport. Intellectual property owners will no longer "have to look all over the Internet every day, all the time, and hire people to do that, in order to find out whether someone is infringing your name in the .sport TLD," he said.

Beckstrom noted concerns about multiple companies with the same name or trademark. He said that the trademark system is divided by categories, and often geography, so perhaps thousands of companies in the world hold a trademark for names like "united" or "national."

"That's not a problem ICANN can solve," Beckstrom said, calling the trademark system a "fundamental mismatch" for the domain name system.

He also acknowledged the complaint that the system will only protect identical matches and not slight variations, but said that for now, it's too difficult to define which non-identical matches would qualify as uses of trademarks. Though, he did say that such a definition could be developed in the future.

In any case, that problem will diminish over time, Beckstrom suggested, because businesses will start to name themselves in ways that take advantage of available domain names in the new system. He pointed out that businesses already often factor in domain name availability when they choose their names.

Despite assurances from its leaders, ICANN is prepared for problems to arise as it accepts new applications. For the next few days at ICANN offices, "every meeting we have internally is immediately cancelable," so that the organization can address issues that arise amid the rollout, Beckstrom added.

UPDATE 1/12/2012: ICANN announced in a release that it has begun accepting applications and will continue to do so until April 12. The organization also updated its applicant guidebook with clarifitications previously published by the gTLD customer service center. Additionally, applicants that qualify for financial assistance will only have to pay a $47,000 application evaluation fee.

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