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The Name Game.

The Internet's new extensions give companies another shot at landing the perfect website moniker

If you've always lamented missing out on that perfect name for your company's website, you may soon get a second chance. Say you're Acme Gifts International, for example, and it turned out that AcmeGifts.com, Acme.com, and every other variation you could think of was already taken. So ... how would AcmeGifts.biz suit you?

You could make a play for that new name sometime this spring, when the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN, www.icann.org) approves seven new Internet extensions, or Top Level Domains (TLDs). The familiar .com, .net and .org will be joined by .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name and .pro. companies will soon be able to apply for these new extensions through one of more than 150 ICANN-approved registrars or Internet service providers.

While possibilities for new Internet names with these suffixes may sound endless, there is a catch. The .aero, .coop, .museum and .pro TLDs are for air carriers, cooperatives, museums or professionals such as doctors and lawyers. The .name TLD is only for websites with personal monikers such as JohnSmith.name.

That leaves only .biz and .info available to the general business community. still, they may be better than nothing for companies that lost out on getting preferred names with the .com extension.

Most Internet experts still aren't entirely sure about the impact of the new TLDs, but they agree on one thing: It's probably time to register for a new web name or two. The big reason: Registering domain names is primarily a first-come, first-served deal. As yet, there's no precise process for determining which companies will have first dibs on the new extensions. Ideas being tossed around include having a lottery and giving priority to trademark owners to register their names first.

While owning the trademark on your company's name might help, it won't guarantee getting the associated website name (which could be good news if you're yearning for Target.biz or McDonalds.info). However, if you don't act quickly, you could risk losing out on your perfect Internet name -- again. And if you've already got the website name of your dreams, you still need to protect it.

Just what's in an Internet name, anyway? These days, everything, says Mark Swinth, cofounder and CEO of Portland's Brand Fidelity. The firm is a new branding agency that offers a self-service website (brandfidelity.com) for customers who are selecting and acquiring new names for companies, products and related websites.

According to Swinth, companies spend significant time and money developing a brand identity for their company -- from product names to slogans -- that will stand out in the marketplace. When it comes to the Internet, it's important for the site name to support the brand.

"Before customers try an Internet search, they often just type in yourcompanyname.com or yourproductname.com to see what pops up," says Swinth. "If your customers find you immediately, good for you. But if they accidentally end up at another site, you could lose business."

Hillsboro's WCI Cable was lucky with its name. Three years ago, it registered WCICable.com without a hitch. "The name was so specific that no one else tried to get it," explains Wendy Elkey, the company's marketing communications specialist. "But now we'd very much like to be WCI.com, and someone already owns that name."

WCI is now negotiating a purchase of the WCI.com name, but will most likely register as WCI.biz and WCI.info, too. Even though it may take customers time to accept the new Web extensions, says Elkey, WCI wants to cover itself.

Does the introduction of the new extensions compromise.com addresses? Most experts say no. "There's still going to be something about the .com name that is appealing and makes it worth pursuing first," predicts Internet law attorney Ben Kaminash, head of Ater Wynne's Intellectual Property Group. "Companies with the .com extension will look more solid. People will assume they've been in business longer than a .biz company," he says.

But Kaminash advises his clients not to sit still, even if they are already perched on their ideal .com address. "I'd suggest that, just to protect themselves, companies register every version of their business or product name they can afford, with every possible new extension," he says. Next, companies might register common misspellings of their name. "It's much cheaper to pay a few extra bucks [typically up to $35/year] for extra domain name registrations than to end up paying an attorney to wrestle someone over trademark infringement," warns Kaminash.

The good thing about the new extensions, says Kaminash, is that they allow a greater number of companies to get the Internet addresses they really want. The flip side -- and the main reason Kaminish suggests registering as many names as possible -- is that the new TLDs open the door even wider for "cybersquatters."

Cybersquatters often register specific website names, using them with "bad faith intent to profit," or hoping to force companies or individuals to buy back the names at a premium. (ICANN does have regulations against cybersquatting, and offers a dispute resolution process for companies who feel they've been wronged.)

If you're naming a brand-new company or product today, you should definitely find out whether the coinciding website name is available, advises Brand Fidelity's Swinth. First, consider the solid .com address, he says, then analyze whether any additional extensions are available and worthwhile. Then and only then -- name your company or product. "It's really unfortunate that the availability of domain names is driving branding and naming decisions, but nothing is more crucial today," he says.

Business owners should know that once the new TLDs are available (and no specific date has been announced), they may still not get their first choice. The rush to register new names will be like buying tickets to the latest U-2 concert. Registrars with inside information or the fastest Internet connections could get the best picks, while the little guys end up in the nosebleed section of Web names.

But hey, there's always hope. Within the next year, ICANN will probably approve yet more domain name extensions. Anyone for AcmeGifts.sex?

HOW TO SUCCEED AT THE INTERNET NAME GAME

Once you've decided on a specific domain name, check its availability. Most registrars (there are more than 150) offer a way to look up current names. You can also search for previously expired domain name registrations through whois.net.

Find out whether your desired domain name violates anyone's trademark. Rules about trademarks in conjunction with Internet domain names can be complicated and may be worth discussing with an attorney.

Although some TLDs that used to be country codes (such as .tv, which was restricted to organizations in the country of Tuvalu) are becoming available, experts generally dismiss them. If you're an entertainment business, .tv might be a useful extension, If not, skip it.
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Title Annotation:Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to approve Internet extensions
Comment:The Name Game.(Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to approve Internet extensions)
Author:CETTINA, TERI
Publication:Oregon Business
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Apr 1, 2001
Words:1157
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