'.co' extension is launched

Various developments have taken place in Colombia with regard to domain names. First, at the beginning of February 2010, the management of the Colombian domain name registry was allocated by the Colombian Ministry of Information Technology and Communications to .CO Internet SAS, a strategic venture between Arcelandia SA (a Colombian entity with interests in a variety of internet-related businesses) and Neustar Inc (the registry for '.us' and '.biz', among others).
Moreover, on February 7 2010 the new registry liberalized the extensions '.com.co' and '.net.co', the two main Colombian extensions, which, until then, were open only to Colombian entities. This liberalization was implemented in view of the major development which took place on March 1 2010: the launch of domain name registrations directly under the top-level domain (TLD) '.co'.
In line with other recent TLD launches, the Colombian registry will be running a phased launch process:
  • Grandfather period (March 1 to March 31 2010) - during this period, owners of existing Colombian domain name registrations (under extensions such as '.com.co', '.net.co' and '.org.co') may apply for the corresponding domain names under '.co'. To participate in this phase, the existing domain names must have been registered prior to July 30 2008.
  • Sunrise period, part I (April 1 to April 20 2010) - holders of Colombian trademarks registered prior to July 30 2008 may apply for domain names under '.co' which are an exact match for the trademarked terms. Should the situation arise where more than one applicant has applied for the same domain name under '.co', the domain name will go to auction.
  • Sunrise period, part II (April 26 to June 10 2010) - holders of trademarks which are valid in any of the states listed in the World Intellectual Property Organization's Standard ST.3 and were registered prior to July 30 2008 may apply for domain names under '.co' which are an exact match for the trademarked terms. Auctions will take place when more than one applicant has applied for the same domain name.
  • Landrush period (June 21 to July 13 2010) - any applicant may apply for any domain name. Auctions will take place when more than one applicant has applied for the same domain name.
  • General registration (July 20 2010 onwards) - domain names under '.co' will be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
As the generic TLD (gTLD) '.com' is gradually becoming saturated, '.co' could be considered as an interesting alternative, since 'co' is a common abbreviation for 'company'. This is nothing new, as numerous country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) have chosen the abbreviation 'co' to designate the extensions aimed at companies, such as '.co.uk' (United Kingdom), '.co.jp' (Japan) and '.co.ir' (Iran).
However, the Colombian registry does not want to restrict the meaning of '.co' to 'Colombia' or 'company', and is marketing the extension as a new, flexible and global extension that everyone around the world could identify with, according to how they interpret its meaning and according to the use that they want to make of the domain name. The registry stated that "'.co' will never cease to be Colombia's ccTLD, but it will be marketed to a global user base."
The launch of this new unrestricted extension is certainly going to create a lot of interest, not only from brand owners, small to medium businesses, domainers and individuals, but also from typosquatters (who will undoubtedly register '.co' domain names to benefit from the traffic generated when Internet users mistype the extension '.com'). There are clear parallels between the possibility for abusive behaviour in '.co' and the launch of '.cm' in Cameroon, which saw high levels of typosquat domain name registrations and effectively lost all credibility.
However, contrary to the Cameroonian registry, the Colombian registry has a clear and open wish to make '.co' a safe TLD, and has thus put in place numerous rights protection mechanisms (RPMs) in order to protect brand owners' rights.
The use of RPMs in a TLD launch is not unusual. Nearly all of the newly created or liberalizing TLDs in the last 10 years have included some form of sunrise period for brand owners. However, what makes the launch of '.co' different is that the Colombian registry has elected to put in place the RPMs as suggested by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)'s Implementation Recommendation Team (IRT) for the protection of trademarks in the proposed new gTLDs.
Thus, the Colombian registry will be including the following RPMs in the launch of '.co', and going forward:
  • IP clearinghouse - this is a designated third party that can assist brand owners by reviewing their trademarks to ensure that they meet the requirements of the '.co' sunrise policy (at no additional costs).
  • Globally protected marks list - a list is being created to protect approximately 100 major brands. Criteria for inclusion on the GPML includes:
    • the number of trademark registrations worldwide;
    • the level of enforcement in the context of the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP) or other domain name dispute resolution mechanisms; and
    • the level of participation in previous sunrise processes.
  • Rapid takedown process (also known as uniform rapid suspension system) - this system will be implemented to take down websites rapidly where phishing, pharming, malware, or other significant criminal and/or security threats have been identified. The Colombian registry will also implement a policy to suspend domain names when serial cybersquatting can be established.
In addition, standard RPMs will be implemented, such as:
  • Structured sunrise process.
  • Trademark validations - validation agents have been designated to check the eligibility of the legal rights claimed by the domain name applicants during the sunrise phases.
  • Accredited registrars -only 10 registrars have been authorized to sell '.co' domain names directly or through their reseller networks.
  • Eligibility cut-off date - only trademarks registered on or prior to July 30 2008 will be considered eligible to participate in the sunrise period.
  • UDRP for the settlement of disputes relating to '.co' domain names.
  • Thick and reliable WHOIS data - the domain name registration data provided by the registrars will be centrally stored and made available, and registrants will be required to keep their WHOIS data updated and accurate. In addition, they will not be allowed to use a proxy service to hide their identity.
The intention of the Colombian registry to include the IRT recommendations certainly sets the pace in advance of the launch of new gTLDs in 2011, given that '.co' is a ccTLD and, as such, will not be bound by what ICANN finally adopts as RPMs in the new gTLDs. Therefore, it is a bold and welcomed step by the Colombian registry.
David Taylor, Lovells LLP, Paris 

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