Get ready for the next great land rush, because the Internet is about to expand. Top-level domains, now restricted to 22 variations like .com, .edu, .net and .gov will soon be limitless. Companies have already petitioned ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) for the right to be the official registry of new top-level domains, which may now take the form of whole words like .health and.books. These new domains are called "generic top-level domains." As trademark owners can attest, the Internet is already a difficult place to police unauthorized uses of intellectual property. Cyber-squatters register domain names that contain the legitimate trademarks of others (or commonly misspelled variants), hoping to trick unsuspecting visitors into viewing their webpages. With the availability of thousands of new domains, cyber-squatters will have thousands of new playgrounds. The coming expansion of domain names to a theoretically limitless number is cause for concern for the trademark owner. The trademark rights-protection community is worried that a new generation of cyber-squatters is crouching at the door. However, trademark owners have gained certain protections within the new generic top-level domain regime through negotiations with ICANN. Some of these protections are already in place, and some are still being worked out. As the launch of several top-level domains is only months away, now is a good time to plan for the protection of one's trademark rights. The situation remains fluid, but we know enough now to advise trademark owners about a protection regime called the Trademark Clearinghouse. This is a system which will give owners of registered marks two important safeguards – also known as rights-protection mechanisms (RPMs). [footnotes omitted]
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