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Big biz slams brakes on new domains

The Cornish will just have to wait

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ICANN has bowed to pressure from big business to push back the launch of new internet domains over fears of wholesale cybersquatting.

The decision means domains such as “.shop”, “.music” or even “.google” and “.london”, would be unlikely to see the light of day until late next year at the earliest.

The board of the internet policy-making group on Friday unanimously voted to keep the floodgates closed until it has heard more from the intellectual property lobby.

ICANN “believes strongly that the concerns of trademark holders must be addressed before this process is open,” chairman Peter Dengate Thrush said in a statement.

Big brands believe that hundreds of new top-level domains (known as gTLDs) will do little more than squeeze millions out of major corporations into the pockets of companies running domains that users neither want nor need.

Dozens of companies, including Yahoo, Microsoft, Time Warner and CA have claimed that new gTLDs “would vastly increase the costs associated with defensive registrations” with “no evidence to suggest a compelling demand for the expansion”.

ICANN’s decision came in the face of increasing frustration from groups representing ethnic and regional groups, which are chomping at the bit to win approval for gTLDs to represent their communities.

During a summit in Mexico City last week, ICANN heard pleas to quit stalling from those who would propose gTLDs such as “.bzh”, “.gal”, “.eus” and “.ker” to represent the Breton, Galician, Basque and Cornish peoples, respectively.

These groups want to follow in the footsteps of Catalonia, which secured “.cat” to represent its language and culture in 2005. The more ICANN drags its feet, the less credible they appear in the eyes of their supporters, it was claimed.

Others, such as those proposing to launch “.berlin” and other city gTLDs, pointed out that while ICANN wrings its hands over trademarks, city names are “the oldest, strongest, and most powerful brands mankind has ever created”.

“Do you want that the city mayors at the next meeting are begging up here, on knees, for the city TLD?” asked Dirk Krischenowski, CEO of dotBERLIN.

The problem, of course, is that as soon as any new gTLD launches, companies will be forced to either pay to register their brands, as Microsoft has with microsoft.cat, or abandon them to third parties, as Microsoft has with microsoft.travel.

A hundred new gTLDs would mean either a hundred new annual registration payouts, a hundred new legal fights, or a hundred new cybersquatters.

The new ICANN trademark panel, to be chosen by and from the group’s intellectual property constituency, is to file its recommendations by late May, which would push the start of the gTLD approval process to as late as February 2010.

Outgoing ICANN chief Paul Twomey also acknowledged last week that there could be further delays if the selection process has to be refined for a fourth time. ®

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