The Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) has today approved a new domain name programme that could further threaten trademark rights.

The new Internationalized Domain Name Fast Track Process (IDN) will welcome applications for domain name registrations with non-Latin text from start to finish - that is, including the text after the final dot. The news comes as brand owners grow increasingly wary of ICANN's plans for the expansion of the generic top-level domain (gTLD) space next year (see "Slipping through the Net: is ICANN whitewashing brand owners' gTLD fears?").

"On the face of it, the timing of ICANN's approval of the IDN country code TLD fast track raises suspicions that another ICANN policy that is disruptive to brand owners is being slipped through while they are looking the other way (focussed as we all are on gTLDs)," observed Nicholas Bolter, a partner at Edwards Angell Palmer & Dodge.

Trademark owners will be concerned that their rights will not be protected under the new plan, agreed Nick Wood, managing director of Com Laude. "Mark owners that have a trademark under a non-IDN will be looking to see whether they're going to be given the nod to register an IDN first or whether they'll have to compete with a third party," he told WTR. Both of those cases will result in extra costs for brand owners, many of whom already own thousands of defensive domain name registrations - some currently manage domain name portfolios which are 70-90% defensive.

However, ICANN is insisting that the roll-out of IDNs is key to the further development and expansion of the Internet. "The first countries that participate will not only be providing valuable information of the operation of IDNs in the domain name system, they are also going to help to bring the first of billions more people online – people who never use Roman characters in their daily lives," commented Rod Beckstrom, ICANN's president and chief executive.

While there is a fierce debate still raging over trademark protection in the gTLD space, this has not yet been widely addressed with respect to IDNs. "IDN ccTLDs are of less concern than gTLDs," explained Boulter. "The IDN ccTLDs are at least limited to country/territorial specific TLDs."

ICANN's IDN Fast Track Process officially launches on November 16 2009.

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