Google signaled its interest in new gTLDs when it applied for over 100 of them, from .DAD to .みんな (‘everyone’ in Japanese Hiragana script). Everyone knows that Google has the power to drive widespread consumer adoption. And now, CIO Ben Fried has fleshed out the company’s vision (view the video here) at its recent developers’ conference, Google I/O. Fried announced the formation of Google Registry, intended to make registering a domain and building a website into “a Google experience” akin to Gmail: an intuitive and inexpensive one-stop shop, with site-building tools, free whois privacy, and DNS hosting on their own network. And Google seems to be serious about this—the company is even offering live customer support, a major departure from its usual practice.
No doubt there are long faces at GoDaddy HQ in Scottsdale. But what strikes us at T+B is the fact that new gTLDs are the starting point and future focus for Google Registry’s strategy; disrupting the retail domain industry is incidental. Fried cites “domain name space exhaustion”—of a possible 456,976 four-letter .COM domains, exactly none are unregistered—and paints new gTLDs as the path to a new and more useful Internet (led by his company). T+B readers don’t need to revisit the essentials of Fried’s case, but they should reflect on what the looming Google-induced acceleration of new gTLD adoption means for brand holders.
There will be far too many TLDs to take the old-fashioned approach of securing as many defensive registrations as the budget will allow. The Trademark Clearinghouse (if used well) provides an adequate safeguard against outright trademark infringement, but how will brands be used? IP professionals learned long ago that although similar marks can co-exist peacefully offline as long as their uses and classifications are different enough, there is only one .COM version and it must be claimed if possible. Will the future be fragmented? Should, for example, a fly fishing outfitter and a cosmetics line with similar names (an amusing idea in itself) even care what the other one does in the TLD best suited to its industry? Will .FISH and .SEXY operate in such different worlds that there is no danger of consumer confusion? (T+B hopes so). And if so, what does that mean for the expensive .COM both companies bid on?
Of course, anyone familiar with the pitfalls of branding knows enough to expect surprise conflicts, and Fried’s presentation suggested one: Google’s new TLD, .SOY, meaning “I am” in Spanish, which will be marketed to Latinos. Do you think soybean producers should register their brands in .SOY?