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ICANN gTLDs: When Names Are Borrowed from an Atlas

Naseem Javed

When names are borrowed from an Atlas, things happen. Use of Geographic names have always caused some problems for two reasons; one they are in the public domain so anyone else can use them and two they connote that business is confined to just that geographic area. Like Paris Bakery, Waterloo Furniture or London Bank. Geographic naming was the biggest thing during last couple of centuries, as using name of a village or a city as a moniker was considered being on top of the hill. The sudden worldwide expansion of markets due to ease of communications in the early Computer Society created a massive exit of businesses from geographical names.

Back in 1985, ABC Namebank conducted a major study of all of the corporate names listed in Fortune 500. Starting from the first ever list of 500 published in 1955 all the way to 1985 and concluded by this 30 year by year comparison that why most corporations replaced geographic names with appropriately border-less names to reach an international audience.

Amazon as a brand name for online book retailer is the largest and most successful. At this stage, it's not important where and why that business name was chosen; originally from ancient Greece for big breasted female warriors, or the Amazon River, the fact remains it's now a geographical name in public domain. So who should get the super power gTLD dot.amazon, the book store or the region of Amazon in Brazil? Names borrowed from the Atlas often face sudden crossroads.

ICANN gTLD name evaluations policy has only two clear options; either follow the proven rules of trademark registrability or follow the first-come, first-served 'lawless' rule of early domain name registrations.

To go granular on this early lawless domain name approval system, let's clarify two things: if the 'no questions asked' and 'first-come, first-served' original policy created massive domain name expansion, did it also not create some 25 thousand of UDRPs conflict resolution proceedings and also created a multi-billion dollar defensive name registration industry? Who are the real beneficiaries of such lawless registrations? When a legit multi-billion dollar company buys a name for a business, say ibm.com the same system allows a kid to buy myibm.com, next in line. Is this a way to earn few dollars on a sale or is it a plan to fuel massive global litigation and speculative markets on Intellectual Properties? Under this lawless thinking trademark system would have collapsed couple centuries ago. Now let's fast forward.

Name-centricity clashes with global branding

"A complete breakdown of the domain name registration system, a type of anarchy on the Internet, as allowing anybody to register anything. Registrars throw up the towels. Trademark offices threaten to shut down. Intellectual property becomes public domain. The part-time guy at the local Pizza Hut answers the phone "Hello this is IBM — how can I help you" Battalions of lawyers will band around the word, declaring war on each other, and forcing conflicting points of views in endless battles will win trademarks. This war, would be a great windfall for the profession, as monthly billings would only become perpetual ones." —Excerpted from Domain Wars, by Naseem Javed, Linkbridge Publishing 1999.

Back to gTLDs, on another example; if ICANN approves the name for the athletic brand Patagonia, already objected by the Region of Patagonia of South America, it will cause serious damage to the credibility of a gTLD ownership. Once it's cracked there will be no end as every tenth gTLD name poses special conflicting issues and giving in would chip away gTLD quality.

If, on the other hand, ICANN recognizes geographic gTLDs as rightly belonging to the locals and regions, it will send a shock-wave to all the global name brands with words borrowed from the atlas.

There are at least 10% very tough name approval decisions in the big list of 1930 pending applications. If this alone does not place ICANN in the eye of a storm of naming complexity than where else is it headed? ICANN is now approaching the crossroads where the seriousness and fairness of the usage of names under trademark laws must be clearly declared or it will crack the gTLD program where litigious and hyper-defensive registration mechanisms suck out the positive energy. The Trademark clearing house without such clarity and direction is poised to become the Achilles Heels on the gTLD battlefield.

ICANN slowly approaches the crossroads and so are the global brands with borrowed words from the atlas but still both sides need good maps.

By Naseem Javed, Expert: Global Naming Complexities, Corporate Nomenclature, Image & Branding. He is the founder of ABC Namebank, author of 'Domination: The GTLD Name Game', syndicated columnist, keynote speaker and specialist on global naming complexities.

Related topics: Domain Names, ICANN, Internet Governance, Policy & Regulation, Top-Level Domains

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