ICANN announces further delay to limitless domain plan

The body responsible for controlling addresses on the internet has said that a plan to allow a potentially limitless number of domains has been delayed. Applications to use any word as a domain will not be taken until early 2010 at the earliest, it said.

ICANN (The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has moved the deadline to accommodate "community concerns on specific aspects of the program," it said.

When the proposal was announced last June, the plan had been to begin to take applications to create new domains in the second three months of 2009. Another delay was announced this March to give brand holders time to express their concerns. ICANN has now said that the whole process will take longer than expected, and a third guidebook, which outlines how the system will work, will not be published until autumn.

"The third version of the Guidebook is scheduled to be published in early September; the comment period for that version will close after the ICANN meeting in Seoul (25-30 October 2009)," said an ICANN statement. "This timing enables the publication of the final Guidebook and following a communications period, the acceptance of applications in the first quarter of 2010."

Representatives of major companies have expressed concern at the plan to make it much easier to register new domains because of the potential for trade mark infringement and misrepresentation of brands.

Companies already spent significant sums combating cybersquatting and on so-called defensive registrations of their trade marks, where they register names at new domains to stop them falling into other people's hands.

John Mackenzie, a technology lawyer with Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind OUT-LAW.COM, previously said that brand owners do not want the new gTLDs.

"The people who stand to gain from the new bespoke domains are typosquatters and those in the business of selling domain names – the name registrars and registries. Most companies simply don't need and don't want the new names," he said when an earlier delay to the process was announced.

"When .eu launched, the European Commission said that the high uptake showed the demand for the new domain. It showed nothing of the sort. Companies bought the names because they felt they had to, to stop their brands being weakened by parasites."

One web hosting and registrar company said, though, that brand owners and trade mark holders were over-estimating the scale of the problem, and that the creation of many new domains would benefit companies.

"People are talking about this as if everybody is going to be able to go out and get a domain, but that isn't true, there are still major barriers – technical ones and financial ones," said Michele Neylon, managing director of Blacknight Solutions.

"It costs $200,000 in ICANN fees to get a domain, then once you have done your research and paid your running costs for two years you are going to need $2 million to have one of these," said Neylon. "And you will still have to demonstrate that you have the stability to run a domain."

Trade mark owners only have rights to a term in relation to specified areas of business. Neylon said that a proliferation of domains would allow more holders of trade marks to have a domain name that contained their actual trade mark.

"If lots of people have a term for different classes [areas of business], there is still only one name. But if there are more domains, more of them can have that name," he said.

Neylon said that it would be unfair if those trade mark holders that objected to the system were given favourable treatment in shaping it to their benefit.

"There are millions of internet users out there, why should a subset of a subset be given preference?" he said.