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Expect Bidding, Litigation for New Domains '.law' and '.lawyer'

By Deanne Katz, Esq. on June 15, 2012 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

Applications for new domains were released on Wednesday by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) and it looks like litigation is already on the horizon.

For many, the phrase "dotcom" has become synonymous with "website." Given ICANN's tight control over who can previously own a Top-Level Domain, its new policy opens up entirely new marketing strategies -- and potential disputes.

ICANN has braced itself for litigation by putting away $120 million for potential court costs. It seems like a good move on their part, given the applied for domains.

Among the domain names up for grabs: .law, .lawyer, .legal and .attorney.

Several companies bid for ".law" and several more submitted applications for the similar ".lawyer," ".legal," and ".attorney." The process of checking new applications is expected to take several years but some aspects are known to the public.

ICANN will not grant new domains that are too similar to existing ones, said CEO Rod Beckstrom. In the case of a domain with multiple applicants, ownership will be decided by auction. Of all the applicants for ".law", only one is a law firm: Merchant Law Group in Canada.

Whether any of these names will survive the vetting process and who will own them is unclear given the newness of this process. But it's a good bet that the fair use of any law-related domains will be subject to litigation.

Intellectual property issues have also been a major concern. Opponents of ICANN's decision worry that new domains may overlap with existing trademarks or create look-alike's that confuse consumers.

There's also the concern that companies will be forced to register defensively for domain names to protect intellectual property interests.

ICANN has said that it will address this concern but it's unclear how much they'll be able to do. Given the large number of registered trademarks and copyrights that exist worldwide, the thoroughness of any vetting process is still an open question.

ICANN opened up applications for Top-Level Domain names to anyone with a valid statement of purpose, a departure from the previously closed system of less than two dozen domains.

The cost of applying for a new domain is $185,000. The cost of litigation over who really owns a new name and whether it's infringing on intellectual property is anyone's guess.

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