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Domain names: Internet takes big step toward end of .com era

The group that regulates domain names is now accepting applications for new Internet suffixes beyond .com and its cousins. The new domain names could be operational by the end of 2012. 

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Domain names get more complicated: Rod Beckstrom, CEO of ICANN, speaks during an interview, Monday, in New York. The oversight agency for Internet addresses, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, will open up domain suffix options beyond .com and the 20 other familiar two and three letter suffixes currently used.

Mark Lennihan/AP

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Thursday marks the opening bell for anyone who wants a website ending with something other than .com, .edu, or one of the other 20 familiar Internet suffixes.

The International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the nonprofit in charge of online registry, plans to throw open the doors to hundreds, potentially thousands of new suffixes, called top-level domain names. 

In this first expansion round, which runs through April 12, ICANN will process some 500 applications to register new names. It projects that the first of the new domain names could be up and running by the end of 2012.

From a legal standpoint, there will be challenges to launching the new system, says trademark attorney Erik Pelton. “Who is entitled to .delta? Delta airlines or Delta faucet?” he says.

But perhaps the bigger concern to businesses is that cybersquatters might register online addresses that intentionally mislead surfers. 

“Already, large and small trademark owners struggle to prevent cybersquatting and other malicious uses of their trademarks in connection with third-party domain-name registrations,” says Trevor Schmidt, an intellectual property attorney with Moore & Van Allen, via e-mail

This could represent an exponential increase costs associated with protecting a famous brand, he notes. Although ICANN has adopted a number of protections for trademark owners, “none of these protections are without cost,” he says.

A lawsuit challenging ICANN’s handling of the .XXX domain, for instance, highlights the problems many foresee with this expansion. Eight in 10 applicants who have preregistered for .XXX names are not associated with the adult-entertainment industry, notes Jean Nogues, a lawyer with the case, citing data from EasySpace, which tracks this data.

The companies, he says, “are forced to do this to protect themselves.”

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