In 2012, ICANN held a round of applications for new generic top-level domains (gTLDs), allowing organizations to apply to operate their own Internet registries (the portion of an Internet domain name after the “dot”). This round garnered substantial interest from the global Internet community, and ICANN received nearly 2,000 applications, of which over 1,200 were ultimately delegated (added to the Internet domain name system). Since 2012, ICANN has been assessing how and when to hold a next new gTLD application round; although ICANN’s initial plan had been to hold a subsequent round just a few years later, the process of assessing the lessons learned from the 2012 round and soliciting community feedback on how to improve subsequent rounds has been much slower than expected.
However, as of 2023, the process of organizing the next round of new gTLDs is finally accelerating in a concrete manner. Since ICANN76 in Cancun, the first hybrid Community Forum where the ICANN Board adopted 98 recommendations contained in the New gTLD Subsequent Procedures Policy Development Process Final Report, the tempo has continued. In a resolution approved on July 27, 2023, the Board directed the ICANN Organization (Org) to proceed with the implementation plan for opening the next round of new gTLDs, anticipating that the Applicant Guidebook (AGB) will be finalized in May 2025, enabling the application round to open in Q2 2026 (with a specific goal of April 2026).
This is a significant step in the preparation for the New gTLD Program which the community has been eagerly awaiting. However, there is still a considerable amount of work to be accomplished before the next application round can open, and the ICANN community is working tirelessly to complete the deliverables laid out in the resolution. In particular, the collaborative work of the Org and the Generic Names Supporting Organization (GNSO) Council should be noted for delivering, during the ICANN77 Policy Forum in Washington, DC: a plan and timeline for the resolution of all the outputs contained in Section B of the Resolution Scorecard; a working methodology and plan for the Implementation Review Team (IRT); a project plan and timeline for policy work on how to handle closed generics; and a project plan from the Internationalized Domain Names (IDN) Expedited Policy Development Process Working Group that identifies all charter questions that will impact the next AGB. The ICANN Board has provided thoughtful consideration and has worked closely with the community on the pending recommendations to bring this about.
The Policy Implementation work stream, estimated to require two years concluding in May 2025, is a crucial driver of the timeline and will culminate in the completion of the AGB within that time frame. It is expected that the program development work to open the next round will take ICANN three years overall. This work can be conducted in parallel with policy implementation work. With the completion of the AGB, it is expected that the operational work will take one additional year before the application round can open.
Although April 2026 may still seem quite far in the future, now that ICANN has provided a concrete timeline, it is not too early for brand owners to begin assessing whether and how their organizations may wish to participate in this new gTLD application round. As some brand owners may recall from the 2012 application round, the decision regarding whether to participate, as well as which new gTLD(s) to apply for, requires the collaboration of a broad cross-functional team. In addition, once a draft Applicant Guidebook is issued, brand owners will likely have opportunities to participate in one or more public comment periods. Even brand owners who do not wish to apply for their own new gTLDs will need to assess how the next round of new gTLDs will impact their enforcement strategies, in terms of both potential objections to other parties’ new gTLD applications as well as any changes to rights protection mechanisms. Accordingly, this is an excellent juncture for organizations that have been largely focused on other priorities in recent years to re-engage with ICANN and ensure they are optimizing opportunities to advance their brand protection and other IP policy interests in the Internet domain name space.
Winterfeldt IP Group will be continuing to provide updates on developments relating to ICANN and the next round of new gTLDs. For further information regarding the content of this article, or to discuss this or other intellectual property matters, please contact any of the following team members or or Winterfeldt IP Group's Internet team at firstname.lastname@example.org:
Brian Winterfeldt, email@example.com
Emily Murray, firstname.lastname@example.org
Glen de Saint Géry, email@example.com