ICANN will soon publish the final version of its ‘Guidebook’ for the proposed expansion of generic top-level domains known as gTLDs, such as .com, .net, .org, and .biz. Compared with previous expansions, the new program could have a significant impact on Internet strategy for businesses, and perhaps substantial intellectual property implications.

Only a few years ago, it may have seemed that the domains “to the right of the dot” would (or should) be somewhat limited in scope, perhaps to a handful of broad categories, such as educational (.edu), governmental (.gov), or commercial sectors (.com). As such, previous policy on the expansion of gTLDs has been relatively conservative, with slow but steady additions, including more recent additions .mobi (mobile communications) and .xxx (adult content), among others.
Now, in a program that may go into effect as early as the summer of 2011, just about any established corporation, organization, or institution in good standing may propose and apply for a new gTLD. According to the latest Guidebook draft, individuals or sole proprietorships will not be eligible to apply.
It should thus be interesting to see which types of entities seek to apply, and how many applicants will emerge. Two factors which might limit the overall numbers are the sizable application fees and the logistical considerations.  For example, a US$185,000 evaluation fee could present a substantial barrier to some. Moreover, the proposed program requires the operation of a domain registry and a demonstration of technical and financial capacity for such operations, including the management of registrar relationships.
Given the cost and complexity, large commercial entities may be among the first to apply for a new gTLD, which will naturally entail certain trademark law implications. Notably, the Guidebook draft includes several sections which specifically address trademark-related items, including: 1) a Sunrise Period for trademark owners to submit new gTLD applications ahead of the general public; 2) an independent ‘Clearinghouse’ of registered or otherwise legally validated trademarks; and 3) a challenge process for those who might suffer harm as a result of a registration. It remains to be seen whether this will entail similar battles to those which have occurred with regard to lower-level ‘subdomain’ names “to the left of the dot.”