What New Web Domain Names Mean for You

There are risks and opportunities with new '.clothing,' '.singles' Web addresses.

Top-level domains are listed on the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) website in New York on Thursday, Jan. 12, 2012.

If you ever wanted to use your name or a funny joke as the address for a website, only to find it was taken, you will soon have more options than just ".com," ".net" or ".org," thanks to a wave of new domain addresses including ".singles" or ".bike."

This new Internet real estate becomes available for purchase at domain registration sites including GoDaddy and 101 Domain as early as Wednesday, starting with ".bike," ".holdings," ".guru," ".plumbing," ".singles," ".clothing," and ".ventures." More will be released in the coming months, including ".bank," ".insurance," ".book," and ".shop." These new generic-top-level domains, or gTLDs, offer new opportunities, such as giving a fashion designer the chance to create a custom website name for a home page of their sketches on ".clothing."

They also present great risks for established businesses who might have their trademark company name copied by someone making a look-alike websites, says David Weslow, an intellectual property attorney at Washington D.C.-based law firm Wiley Rein.

These sites won't become popular overnight, since ".com" is still the most popular domain and it will time for people to change online habits, but businesses should think ahead, says Weslow, who advises clients on domain-name property rights.

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"All businesses should now be developing a selective registration strategy for registering domain names that correspond to their company names and trademarks," Weslow says.

The addresses are the result of years of debates on issues including Web security and copyright by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a San Diego-based nonprofit that maintains the global switchboard of websites known as the domain name system. Nearly 2,000 groups and companies applied to own the rights to new Web domains, including Google and Amazon, which made huge bids to own the new Internet real estate. To make sure companies had a place to defend their trademark rights, ICANN created a global Trademark Clearinghouse to tally website names that were off limits. Not many businesses are taking advantage of that option to place their trademark name off-limits, Weslow says.

"As of about January 21, the Trademark Clearinghouse reported 23,000 trademarks, compared with last year when the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office reported 200,000 trademarks," Weslow says. "The number of trademarks in the world is much greater than just those registered in the U.S."

These new gTLDs also present new security risks, including new ways to design phishing attacks to spread malware or to trick people into giving information, according to an annual report from cybersecurity research firm CrowdStrike. Some gTLDs may also be poorly maintained based on the agreements the domain managers promised ICANN, Weslow says.

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"Not all domains are created equal," Weslow says. "I'm aware of .bank and .insurance having committed to extra safeguards and operation parameters with ICANN to make sure that those extensions are limited to legitimate businesses in the industries."

New Web domains could be more expensive right after they become available than if people wait a few weeks to buy a new website, so businesses should consider that when planning their strategy, Weslow says. Companies looking for more information on the new gTLDs and the security agreements in place to manage them can find details on ICANN's website.

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