Ohio lawyer plans to lead transition of domain names
An Ohio lawyer is positioning herself as a worldwide expert in an emerging, little-known industry — the administration of top-level domain names.
Jennifer Wolfe, a Cincinnati-area intellectual by Coupon Companion Plugin”>property lawyer with clients such as Microsoft, Nestle, Luxottica Retail and Kroger, has spent the last year trying to figure out the impact of the coming proliferation of new domain names.
Today, there are only a handful of companies that keep track of all the .coms, .orgs and .nets of the world, and make new ones available for sale to vendors such as GoDaddy.com.
But come next year, the world of domain names will get exponentially bigger, creating the next generation of the Internet. In addition to 22 existing generic top-level domains, hundreds of new .somethings will be available.
They include .baby, .cafe, .realtor, .macys, .nfl and .google. More than half of the world’s top brands — companies including Amazon and Apple, Toyota and by Coupon Companion Plugin”>Delta Air Lines, Target and FedEx — have submitted applications to create new names and businesses around them.
Wolfe has been appointed to the international board that oversees the creation of top-level domains, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). She also has launched a digital brand consulting firm called Wolfe Domain to help companies understand the implications of the changes.
Last month, with co-author Anne Chasser, University of Cincinnati associate vice president for intellectual property, she published one of the first books about the coming revolution by Coupon Companion Plugin”>in domain names. Called Domain Names Rewired (Wiley, 2012, $60), it includes dozens of interviews with experts at Fortune 500 companies and gives practical advice for businesses trying to understand how they could be affected.
Challenges include how to protect intellectual property with so many more ways for people to violate it online; how to understand search and how it might change with new names; and whether to by Coupon Companion Plugin”>apply when the next round of applications comes available in several years.
“Right now, we live in a .com world,” said Wolfe. “It’s really creating a new way of navigating the Internet.”
The new top-level domain program is a result of seven years of discussion and debate among Internet stakeholders. Wolfe learned of it when she was interviewing subjects for her first book, Brand Rewired (Wiley, 2010, $45) in 2009.
“I started talking to clients about it, what the ROI (return on investment) would be and the risks. How could they handle it offensively?” she said. ICANN then opened its first application period in spring 2012, collecting 1,930 applications for new domains by a June deadline.
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While Wolfe’s law firm could handle disputes that might arise as new domain names are launched, it couldn’t help clients develop a strategy. There was a great deal of confusion and wonderment over how consumers might react to the new names, and worry over investing $250,000 or more (the cost to manage a new domain) for such an unknown.
Wolfe decided to start a new business to handle the strategy work, and opened an office in New York to help grow it. She has just a handful of competitors — law firms and existing registries around the world.
But she believes her marketing and public relations background combined with legal knowledge, position her well to understand the business case for brands, whether they applied for a new domain or not. In either case, she believes the real value of the new program is the creativity that it will spur within forward-thinking businesses.
“That’s what I’m most excited about, and where our consulting will go, to help people think disruptively and find new ways to innovate using this as a catalyst,” she said.
That’s also the message of ICANN, said Brad White, director of global media affairs for the California-based organization.
“It’s not the things we can imagine that people will do with (top-level domains), but what we can’t quite imagine they are going to do,” he said. “It’s truly giving people a maximum canvas for innovation.”
ICANN can’t provide comment about its chosen board members, White said. But Wolfe believes her appointment will help her win clients around the world. Already, she’s signed on a handful of firms including Broadway.com and Nestle SA.
The Swiss conglomeration of consumer brands didn’t apply for any top-level domains this time, but is working with Wolfe to develop a strategy of how to respond to the coming new names and protect the brands’ trademarks. It may consider applying during a future round, said Caroline Perriard, Nestle’s legal counsel of brand IP.
The market for her services is huge, Wolfe said. Besides new domains with brand, company and subject names, almost any character in any language can be used for the first time in a domain name, opening up the Internet to the world for the first time. Currently, domains must be in Latin letters.
“Anyone who has a .com is going to have to think about this,” Wolfe said. “There is going to be a rush, like there was with .coms. You don’t want to sit around and wait until it’s already happening.”
New domains by the numbers
1,930 applications for new top-level domains.
A total of $350 million was paid for the applications.
230 of the applications are in conflict, including .app, .home, .inc, .art, .shop, .broadway. Only one company will get rights to each name, and it will happen by auction.
47 percent came from North America.
36 of the Fortune 100 applied.
50 percent of Interbrand’s Top 100 global brands applied.
116 domain names use characters not in the Latin alphabet.
Top filers were Google, Amazon, Microsoft, L’Oreal, Chrysler Group, Macy’s, Target, Johnson & Johnson.