Online brand protection… Campaign needed?

Following on from the release of nearly 2,000 new suffixes (gTLD), the net address regulator has launched the Trade Mark Clearing House (TMCH) in an attempt to mitigate concerns about trademark infringement. Concerned companies/brands can pre-register their names and the TMCH will alert them if someone else tries to register it.

Rightly, this announcement has caused a storm amongst trade market infringement lawyers who maintain that this won’t protect brands in the long run. While the TMCH will alert a brand on an exact match, it won’t regulate or refuse the application. It will also only alert the brand if the application is an exact match. That means possible registrations on trademark names close to the real thing.

Of the 2,000 new suffixes, around 600 are open, which means that companies wanting to protect themselves across all 600 categories will need to pay nearly a million pounds to register their brand in each (£60 – £98 per year per trademark). Clearly that’s not going to work for smaller companies.

Is a TMCH the best way to manage the process of protecting your online intellectual property? If you’re a global, instantly recognisable brand – yes probably. But if you’re a SME, wouldn’t it be more sensible for ICAAN to create an easy to search online database that companies can go to see if their brand has been registered. Self service keeps the costs down, essential for any small business owner.

I think the real problem lies with the issue that outside of the tech community hardly anyone is aware of the 2,000 new suffixes due to launch in May. Yet anyone with a website – from Coca Cola to your local plumber – is affected. With only a short time left before the launch, shouldn’t ICANN be spending April running a high profile awareness raising campaign? Surely the best way for a company to protect itself is to make sure that they’re aware of the threat in the first place.

Claire Lamb

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