* ICANN expected to approve liberalisation of TLDs
* Move seen as opportunity for dot.brands
* Application period likely to open in January for 90 days
By Georgina Prodhan
LONDON, June 17 Brand owners will soon be able
to operate their own parts of the Web -- such as .apple
, .coke or .marlboro -- if the biggest
shake-up yet in how Internet domains are awarded is approved.
After years of preparation and wrangling, ICANN, the body
that coordinates Internet names, is expected to approve the move
at a special board meeting in Singapore on Monday.
Today, just 22 generic top-level domains (gTLDs) exist --
.com, .org and .info are a few examples -- plus about 250
country-level domains like .uk or .cn. After the change, several
hundred new gTLDs are expected to come into existence.
The move is seen as a big opportunity for brands to gain
more control over their online presence and send visitors more
directly to parts of their sites -- and a danger for those who
fail to take advantage.
It will also change the way search engines like Google
find results, and the way organisations use
search-engine optimisation to improve the visibility of their
websites in search results.
"As a big brand, you ignore it at your peril," says Theo
Hnarakis, chief executive of Australian domain name-registration
firm Melbourne IT DBS, which advises companies and other
organisations worldwide about how to do business online.
"We're advising people to buy their brands, park them and
redirect visitors to their existing site, at the very least,"
says Hnarakis, whose more than 3,500 customers include Volvo
(VOLVb.ST), Lego and GlaxoSmithKline .
If the change is approved on Monday, applications are likely
to open in January for a 90-day period before closing again,
potentially for years.
It will cost $185,000 to apply, and individuals or
organisations will have to show a legitimate claim to the name
they are buying. ICANN is taking on hundreds of consultants to
whom it will outsource the job of adjudicating claims.
"The commercial participants are the most active, aggressive
and articulate members of our society," ICANN CEO Rod Beckstrom
told Reuters in a recent interview, saying trademark owners in
particular were anxious about how the new regime would work.
As well as big brands, organisations such as cities or other
communities are expected to apply.
GTLDs such as .nyc, .london or .food could provide
opportunities for many smaller businesses to grab names no
longer available at the .com level -- like bicycles.london or
The new domains will also change how ICANN works, as it will
have a role in policing how gTLDs are operated, bought and sold.
Until now, it has overseen names and performed some other tasks
but has been little involved in the Internet's thornier issues.
To prevent so-called cyber-squatting, gTLD owners will be
expected to maintain operational sites. ICANN will have to
approve transfers to new owners at the top level.
(Editing by Andrew Callus)