gTLDs are generic top level domains, the most popular today being .com, .net, .biz, .org and .gov. Beginning early in 2012, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) will begin taking applications for any string of three characters or more as a top level domain. As Maria Crimi Speth, of Jaburg Wilk, writes, any organization’s brand name could become a gTLD. We could see “.disney, .cocacola, or .nike” managed by firms other than the respective trademark owners.
It will be expensive, and there are stipulations. gTLDs are for domain registries only, and require $185,000 up front, plus ongoing operational expenses for the 10-year registry contract. To be sure, there are dispute resolution mechanisms built into the ICANN plan, including likelihood of confusion objections from trademark owners. Nonetheless, when ICANN opens up the application process to the public (around mid-2012), things might get messy, and IP managers and counsel charged with protection of IP value will need to monitor this closely.