ICANN is now allowing almost any brand name to be used as a top level domain.
ICANN is now allowing almost any brand name to be used as a top level domain.

One of the most important IP issues for startups is ensuring their name does not infringe the trademark rights of another.  The Michigan Law School Entrepreneurship Clinic provides a checklist for performing a basic trademark clearance for your startup’s name.  Other commentators have provided guidance on the myriad business, legal, and technology considerations associated with selecting a name:

•Ultralightstartups consolidates a number of sources here.

•Dharmesh Shah also provides 17 mutable suggestions.

Both of the above sources highlight the importance of ensuring your name is available as a domain name, a Twitter handle, a Facebook username, and through any other vehicles for indexing content online.  When seeking to register domain names, startups have generally focused on the .com top-level domain (“TLD”).  Domain name considerations are about to become a little more complicated.

ICANN, the private, non-profit organization that oversees the technical elements of the Internet, including the naming of Web addresses, is about to open up the TLD scheme.  In other words, instead of the limited number of TLD’s currently available (e.g., .com, .org., .gov), virtually any brand could be used as a TLD.

ICANN expert, John Murino, was recently interviewed by Bloomberg Law and provided a great summary of this expansion of the architecture of the Internet.  

ICANN initiated an application process for these new TLD’s in January.  Applicants must pay a $185,000 application fee, but more importantly must demonstrate the financial backing to effectively manage their registry.  This is because, a new owner of a TLD, is then responsible for issuing the domain names that are part of that new TLD.  As Murino explains in his interview, ICANN plainly wants to ensure that these new registries can effectively manage their new TLD.

There are certainly some entrepreneurial ventures that are pursuing TLD’s of their own in pursuit of the lucrative business of issuing the domains included in a popular TLD.  As the Washington Post reports, ICANN received thirteen applications for the .app TLD and nine for .blog.  For most startups, however, the primary issue associated with this Internet expansion is considering whether there will be new TLD’s in which they should register their domain name.  For example, when the .app registry goes live, a mobile app company may need to have its domain name registered in the .app TLD as well as .com.  A startup in the electric vehicle space may want to monitor whether the .hybrid, .ev, or other related TLD’s become popular.

The point is that a startup’s brand is much more now much more than just a name on a package or a front door.  It is now a piece of virtual real estate in forever expanding and evolving landscape.