Being human-friendly addresses on the Internet, domain names such as “yahoo.it” and “finnair.com” operate as globally unique gateways that enable consumers of products, services, and information to reach online contents. Trademarks, on the other hand, are territorial in nature and arise primarily from the need to prevent consumer confusion, among their other economic functions. In an Internet economy, domain names act similarly to word-marks in the trademark system, thereby functioning as quasi-trademarks.
As domain names continue to be an integral part of any firm’s trademark strategy, there have been increasing efforts on an international level to make the administration of the domain name system (DNS) compatible with the manner in which trademark rights are enforced. This paper examines such trends, particularly in light of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ introduction of generic top-level domains (gTLDs), and their ramifications from an intellectual property law standpoint.
This paper begins with an examination of the entrenched association between trademarks and domain names despite the inherent legal and technical incompatibility between the two, a result of which gives rise to exploitative business practices in the midst of an ever-present risk of violation of exclusive rights.
A discussion of the legal avenues of domain name dispute resolution follows, with a focus on how they operate in terms of protecting trademark interests in the current domain name system as well as an assessment of the changing provisions and safeguards under ICANN’s new generic top-level domain programme.
To conclude, the paradoxical nature of an endeavour to align the governance of globally unique domain names with that of territorial trademark interests is observed. Of particular interest is how such a move inevitably harms conformity to national trademark laws and consequently threatens the legal basis of the very rights those extra-legal regulations are designed to uphold and enforce.