Domain name move could trigger flood of disputes

Businesses will soon no longer be limited to .com and the other 20 top-level domains ...

Businesses will soon no longer be limited to .com and the other 20 top-level domains when choosing how best to represent themselves on the internet.

Domain name authority Icann has accepted proposals that will let companies choose their domain name from mid-2009.

Icann expects organisations will apply for industry domains such as the existing .travel for the travel industry as well as generic domains such as .brandname.

The organisation said consortiums were already interested in establishing city-based top-level domains such as .nyc for New York City.

The move will alleviate the existing shortage of domain names, but intellectual property lawyers have urged caution.

Tom Scourfield, a lawyer at CMS Cameron McKenna, said domain name proliferation could increase the number of expensive legal disputes if several companies or organisations laid claim to the same name.

When the .eu domain was introduced, there was a major dispute when a clothing, vehicle and sweet manufacturer all wanted to register polo.eu.

Scourfield said that groups representing an industry or city were likely to band together to apply for the new domain names because of the costs involved.

He added that this could lead to a new class of dispute among members of such groups if there were no clear legal agreement on the rights of each.

A bigger concern is a rise in cybersquatting, with names registered solely so they can be sold on at vastly increased prices to organisations that do want to operate websites.

Kate Withers, a lawyer at Eversheds, said the cost alone was unlikely to deter cybersquatters from registering valuable domain names.

Scourfield said the coming domain name expansion made it more important than ever for trademark owners to have a clear brand protection strategy.

Specialist software exists to monitor illegal trademark use and challenging attempts to infringe trademark rights.

And brand monitoring software allows users to scan the web for a particular brand name and logo.

Charlie Abrahams of brand protection firm MarkMonitor said that a bank, for example, would be interested in any web pages that contained both its trademarks and fields for entering usernames or passwords.

While much remains to be confirmed about how exactly Icann will manage the new domain name process before registrations start next year, a raft of legal disputes looks a certainty.

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