ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, plays a vital role behind the scenes in ensuring the smooth functioning of the internet. As a global coordinator, ICANN establishes regulations, maintains infrastructure, and fosters collaboration to ensure a stable and secure domain name system (DNS), the foundation of the internet’s addressing system.

For brand owners, the internet is a fundamental aspect of their operations, making the DNS a vital component in safeguarding their online presence. Therefore, navigating ICANN’s influence is essential for brand owners. There are two sides of ICANN, on one hand brands have to be compliant with ICANN regulations to ensure the continued functioning of the domain names, on the other hand ICANN implements mechanisms that help brands to protect their reputation. 

To delve deeper into this topic, let’s explore the significance of ICANN’s role and how it impacts brand owners. 

Ensuring compliance with ICANN to maintain domain functionality

ICANN regulates the functioning of domain names through contracts with domain registries and registrars. Registrars, in turn, ensure compliance by enforcing contracts and policies with registrants, who are the individuals or entities that register domain names. These contracts outline the obligations and responsibilities of all parties in managing domain names. By enforcing these contracts, ICANN ensures the stability, security, and interoperability of the DNS. To remain compliant with ICANN and ensure the functionality of the domains, brand owners must adhere to ICANN’s contractual obligations, policies and regulations.

Compliancy eliminates risks

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Leveraging ICANN’s assistance to safeguard brands’ reputation

Beyond the necessity of to adhere to ICANN rules and regulations to maintain the functionality of the domain names, it’s crucial to recognize that these regulations also serve the interests of brand owners. ICANN plays a pivotal role in numerous aspects concerning brands online assets.

Brand owners have a valuable toolset at their disposal thanks to ICANN’s mechanisms for reporting and challenging abusive domain registrations. It’s important to note that ICANN doesn’t directly govern website content; rather, its focus lies in maintaining the addressing system that facilitates access to those websites. Nevertheless, ICANN’s implementation of mechanisms is aimed at maintaining the integrity of the internet and consequently safeguarding brand reputation. Many brands rely on these mechanisms to reclaim domain names that have been lost or misused.

Below are some of the procedures established by ICANN: 

The UDRP was adopted by ICANN in 1999 on the basis of recommendations made by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO). It remains the most popular mechanism among brand owners to resolve domain name disputes.  The UDRP process involves filing a complaint with an ICANN-approved service provider, which then follows established procedures to collect evidence and reach a decision. This decision can order the transfer or cancellation of the disputed domain name. 

Introduced by ICANN in 2013 as a complement to the UDRP, the URS primarily focuses on the new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). It delivers quicker decision and offers a more cost-effective method for transferring cybersquatted domain names. Both UDRP and URS procedures establish a legal framework for resolving disputes between domain name registrants and third parties regarding the abusive registration and use of the domain names, in both cases one have to provide registered or common law trademark rights in the words contained within the domain name.

Unlike the UDRP, in the URS process, upon receiving the decision, the Registry Operator is required to suspend the domain name. This means that the domain name will no longer resolve to the original website. However, it cannot be transferred, deleted, or modified for the remainder of the registration period.

The TMCH is a database of validated and registered trademarks also established by ICANN to assist trademark holders prevent infringing behavior in the DNS. It operates as a proactive measure against cybersquatting, allowing brand owners to register their trademarks.  

The primary purpose of the TMCH is to maintain a global database of verified trademarks for the DNS. Based on that database some registry operators offer additional RPMs specifically for brand owners. These mechanisms include the option to activate registration phases like: 

Sunrise Services: A phase allowing brand owners to register domain names in a new TLD before it becomes available to the general public.

Claims Services: During a Claims phase, any request for a new domain name registration triggers an automatic verification process by the TMCH against registered trademarks. his phase can be activated by the TLD/registry operator at any time. If a match is identified, the registrant is notified before completion of the registration process, and the brand owner is notified once the domain has been registered. Subsequently, the brand owner can choose to file a UDRP or URS complaint, or pursue any other necessary action. 

Using the anonymized email/webform in the WHOIS/RDAP record: According to ICANN’s post GDPR regulations registries and registrars are required to include anonymized email or web form in the WHOIS output. Brand owners can contact the Abuse Team by the email address or the web form in the Registrar WHOIS record, and the registrar can forward the messages to the registrant email address.

Submit a complaint through the registry and the registrar website abuse contact data: As part of the ICANN contracts, both registries and registrars are mandated to maintain an abuse contact to receive reports of abuse. This avenue can be utilized by brands to address issues or request relevant information. 

ICANN launched RDRS (formerly known as the WHOIS Disclosure System). The system gives the opportunity to individuals to approach registrars through a system to request domain registration information. The innovative system acts as a prototype for managing inquiries regarding access to nonpublic registration data linked to generic top-level domains (gTLDs). It serves as a liaison, connecting individuals seeking this information with ICANN-accredited registrars who participate in the program.

For brand owners, it provides a shortcut to identify who is misusing their names. The domain registration data offers valuable insights enabling brand owners to safeguard intellectual property, monitor domain registrations, enforce trademarks, and fortify their online brand presence. Effectively leveraging the data empowers brand owners to proactively protect their reputation and interests.

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In 2012 ICANN introduced new gTLDs, like “.shop” or “.tech” allowing brand owners to explore new avenues for their online presence. These extensions can offer more relevant and memorable domain names for any businesses.

Moreover, the gTLD program enables brands to acquire their own TLDs (dotBRANDs), a strategic move to safeguard the brand identity and establish a distinct online presence. This initiative not only allows brands to protect their trademarks but also positions them to embrace change and foster stronger connections with customers and partners, enhancing trust and credibility in the digital landscape.

Further information

If you’re interested in acquiring your own top-level domain (TLD), feel free to reach out to us.

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ICANN´s role: A cornerstone in the digital landscape

In conclusion, ICANN plays a critical role in safeguarding brand owners’ online identities, promoting a fair and accountable DNS, and fostering a stable and secure internet environment for the online ventures. ICANN protects brand identity by setting policies and procedures that helps prevent and fight cybersquatting. It promotes transparency and accountability with systems like RDRS where one can get access to domain registration data and that way allowing brand owners to identify potential infringements and take action against bad actors.

And last but not least ICANN provides a voice in the process, brand owners have a role to play in ICANN’s decision-making process. Everyone can participate in discussions and advocate for policies that protect their interests. ICANN also has dedicated constituencies for intellectual property (IP) that represent brand owners’ concerns. Through these collective efforts, ICANN remains a cornerstone in the digital landscape, enabling brand owners to thrive in the ever-evolving online world.