When a gTLD isn’t a gTLD

Josh Bourne ⬥ 23 January

For brand owners, the launch of a new generic top-level domain (gTLD) brings with it a now all-too familiar nuisance: the Sunrise period. Sunrise periods are a necessary evil for businesses: on the one hand, they provide businesses with the opportunity to protect their brand in newly launched extensions, but on the other hand, they require businesses to monitor for announcements, navigate through the steps of registering their trademarks, and pay the associated fees. For companies that hold multiple trademarks, this can be an expensive and time-consuming process. However, as the number of gTLDs is poised to expand significantly, participating in Sunrise periods will remain an important aspect of businesses’ online brand protection strategies.

Unfortunately, there is a lack of clarity among many businesses about when participating in a Sunrise period is a smart defensive move. Some registrars appear willing to take advantage of this confusion, and the “better safe than sorry” attitude that often accompanies it, with vague marketing practices. Take, for example, the so-called “Sunrise period” for the .JP.NET extension that opened on January 16. Let’s get one thing straight right off the bat: .JP.NET is not a top-level domain. Rather, the registry services provider CentralNic has registered “JP” as a second-level domain in the .NET domain space. Businesses that register their trademarks in .JP.NET are actually purchasing athird-level domain on the JP.net second-level domain.

CentralNic argues rightly that the third-level registrations in the JP.net domain open up opportunities for businesses that were unable to obtain their desired domain name in the .NET gTLD or Japan’s .JP country-code TLD (ccTLD). What is unsettling, however, is that .JP.NET is being marketed by registrars as the debut of another top-level domain with no reference to the fact that .JP.NET is not, in fact, a top-level domain. Rather, the .JP.NET rollout seems designed to mirror the recent, high profile launch of the .XXX gTLD with a four-phase registration process that includes Sunrise and Landrush periods along with a promotional period for .JP and .NET owners to register matching .JP.NET domains before General Availability begins. This strategy seems aimed at inciting brand owner confusion and anxiety, and, of course, drumming up sales.

The bottom line is that registrants should be told, up front, what they are actually getting by registering a .JP.NET domain. Without such an explanation, however, the burden falls upon brand owners to be informed and strategic with regard to domain name registrations. As countries increasingly open up ccTLDs to general registrations (Columbia’s .CO and Montenegro’s .ME are two of the most recent examples), and with the first extensions from ICANN’s New gTLD Program predicted to go live in early 2013, the number of Sunrise periods is only going to increase as time goes on. Staying aware and informed will be the key to making smart decisions.

Tags: .JP.NET domain, .net, brand owners, businesses, ccTLDs, CentralNic, General Availability, gTLDs, ICANN, Japan, Landrush Period, Registrar, second-level domain, sunrise period, third level domain, trademarks

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