Custom domain names may soon outnumber the most widely used top level domain name (TLD), .com, after a major proposal to change the structure of internet addresses was approved late last night.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) board has voted unanimously to shake up the internet naming system on a scale not seen for 40 years and that could stir up a hornets nest of trademark litigation.
Until now, anyone wanting to register a particular domain name had been limited to just 21 TLD, including .org and .info. The Dot Asia suffix introduced last year caused a rush of businesses to look at adding Asian suffixes, like .hk for Hong Kong for example, to their website domain to capitalise on emerging markets or protect their intellectual property (IP).
"The potential here is huge. It represents a whole new way for people to express themselves on the net," said Dr Paul Twomey, ICANN president. "It's a massive increase in the 'real estate' of the internet."
ICANN said there were already interested consortiums looking to establish city-based TLD, such as .nyc (for New York City), .berlin and .paris. But, as this ruling allows applicants to suggest their own names for approval, there has been speculation that the likes of Microsoft and Apple may register .microsoft,' .msn,' and .apple' and .mac' suffixes.
Martin Warner, industry observer and former technology adviser said: "The change will provide opportunities for establishing brand names and this will be on offer to many who get in early to establish a clear identity."
Another potential benefit comes from the fact that the present system only supports 27 Roman characters, whereas the ruling could potentially allow for so-called internationalised domain names' that contain non-ASCII characters.
"This is going to be very important for the future of the internet in Asia, the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Russia," added Peter Dengate Thrush, ICANN chairman.
The ruling could also usher in the advent of .sex' and related domain names. But the internet naming authority said any "offensive names will be subject to an objection-based process based on public morality and order".
The application period will open after ICANN's board draws up and approves an implementation plan that it said would be finalised early next year.
Trademark lawyers are likely to have busy dockets in the meantime, preparing IP-based objections, as well as new applications to secure and protect brand and celebrity names.
Warner observed: "There will be costs attached to the migration of domain names, however, with so many companies across the globe, there are huge benefits to having a universally recognised name on the internet."
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A 25-year veteran enterprise technology expert, Miya Knights applies her deep understanding of technology gained through her journalism career to both her role as a consultant and as director at Retail Technology Magazine, which she helped shape over the past 17 years. Miya was educated at Oxford University, earning a master’s degree in English.
Her role as a journalist has seen her write for many of the leading technology publishers in the UK such as ITPro, TechWeekEurope, CIO UK, Computer Weekly, and also a number of national newspapers including The Times, Independent, and Financial Times.