gTLD Strategy: International Relations
Here on gTLD Strategy, we spend a lot of our time talking about English-language gTLDs, mostly because that’s the language we speak best. The FairWinds staff dabbles in Spanish, Korean, French, Arabic, Chinese, and even Polish, but you could say English is our forte.
But, of course, ICANN’s New gTLD Program is not limited to gTLDs in English, or even in Latin script characters (or ASCII). Organizations will also be able to submit applications for Internationalized Domain Names, or IDNs, in non-Latin scripts like Cyrillic, Japanese, Arabic, Hindi, and others. Some have touted this as one of the greatest innovations of the New gTLD Program: now, instead of having to switch scripts between the second level and the top level when typing out domain names, international Internet users will be able to type entire domain names in their native scripts.
While IDNs are, indeed, a great development for Internet users, there is also a strategic element about them for brand owners. Specifically, several companies that we have worked with have decided to pursue transliterated variants of their brands as IDNs.
What kinds of companies should consider applying for IDNs? Essentially, any company that has already transliterated its brand or brands into non-Latin scripts for foreign markets should consider doing so. If your company has a market presence in Saudi Arabia, for example, and is known by an Arabic-transliterated version of its brand, you should consider applying for that brand as an Arabic IDN. Brands should especially consider this option if they have this kind of presence in a key growth market like China, India, or Russia, or a key mature market like Japan or Korea.
Other brands, however, are the same everywhere. By that, we mean they are known by the same Latin-script term across all countries and markets. In that case, applying for an IDN version of their brands is probably not worth the time, price or effort, because their customers are not used to seeing transliterated versions of those brands.
Of course, the process for applying for an IDN can be more technically complex than applying for a Latin-script gTLD, because the Internet operates in ASCII characters. Basically, in addition to providing the, say, Thai version of the IDN (known as the “U-label”), applicants also have to provide what is known as the “A-label,” or the ASCII form of the IDN. They also have to supply an IDN table, which lists all of the characters that are eligible for registrations in domain names in that IDN, and describe the process they used to develop that table.
While this may seem like a lot of work, owning an IDN can be a smart move for companies with a strong presence in foreign markets – or those who hope to develop one.
Like with their primary brands, certain companies may also want to explore the option of “defensively” applying for IDN variants of their brands, in order to keep those strings from being acquired by other entities. A company in that situation has a few options: first, it could apply for the variant outright, as it would any other gTLD. This would result in either the company being awarded the new gTLD, or, if another entity applied for the string, being placed in a String Contention set and then potentially proceeding to an auction. Alternatively, the company could opt to not apply for the IDN, and instead file a legal rights objection in the event that another entity applies for that string – provided the company has trademark rights to the string, of course. Finally, a company could submit an application, but then withdraw after it is revealed that no other entity applied for the string, and recover $130,000, or 70 percent, of the application fee.