They hold the keys to new domains

  • Article by: DAVID PHELPS , Star Tribune
  • Updated: September 4, 2012 - 4:32 PM

But are they worth the expense? Internet observers think it may just be a $185,000 crapshoot.

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Jon Schindle (left) is an attorney who helps clients with domain names on the internet. Miquel Fiol ( right) runs a consulting business in the same area. St. Louis Park, MN. August 29, 2012.

Photo: Joel Koyama, Star Tribune

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For St. Louis Park attorney Jon Schindel, WWW stands for Wild Wild West.

A specialist in Internet domain names, Schindel has a front-row seat in the latest cyber phenomenon -- a rush for new generic top-level domain names -- that portion of the website's name that comes after the dot, as in ".com" or ".gov." And of course, this top level has its own acronym -- gTLD.

Schindel is advising clients to stay on the sideline until the dust settles. "It's a cutthroat world," he said. "The application for a new name is not something to be taken lightly. This is a Pandora's box that can't be closed."

"It is a solution for a problem that doesn't exist," said Schindel's business partner Miguel Fiol, a consultant who brokers domain names and sold his first one as a University of Wisconsin student in 1993.

Earlier this year, companies and organizations plunked down $185,000 per application for domain names such as ".book," ".movie" and ".music."

More than 1,900 applications were submitted to the domain name clearing house, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), and a total of $350 million in already on deposit for the right to have new domain names sometime in late 2013.

Currently, there are 21 generic domain names ranging from the familiar -- ".org" and ".edu" -- to the more obscure -- " .jobs" and ".museums."

Fiol says there are millions of potential Internet addresses using those 21 domain names. "But people aren't using most of them because ".com" is the single most advertised anything," he said. ".org" is used by just 10 percent of sites and ".net" by 5 percent.

ICANN last year decided to expand beyond those existing names to "usher in a new Internet age," as the organization's chairman, Peter Thrush, explained. In theory the new names will give organizations more control over their presence on the Internet.

Among the applicants in the first round was computer giant Apple, which filed an application for ".apple." The most popular domain name applications were ".app," ".home" and ".inc."

'Part of the pack'

But to industry observers like Schindel and Fiol, the cost of registering a new domain name is prohibitive and the expansion is frivolous.

"For $185,000 you don't really get anything. You're just part of a pack," said Fiol. "What if you apply for '.music' and then learn that there are 10 other applications for '.music?' You're now either part of an auction for that name or you buy off your competition, both of which are going to cost you more."

Dan Kelly, a trademark attorney for the Minneapolis firm Winthrop & Weinstine, agrees that expansion of domain names is a hot topic these days.

"There's lots of talk about it in the Internet world and in the legal community as well," Kelly said in an interview. "The prevailing sense is that we don't need an expansion of domain names."

Kelly said he advises clients to be on the lookout for domain name applications that could infringe on their trademark or corporate identity.

"It's a contentious procedure," Kelly said of the application process. "It is not a system disposed to small entities."

Besides, changing a domain name can be risky in a ".com-dominated" world, Fiol and Schindel said.

"There's just so much already invested in '.com.' Companies have 20 years of advertising with that name," said Fiol, whose consulting firm is called Domain Consultant.

"It's a process that lay people are not going to understand," said Schindel, who is with the law firm SeilerSchindel. "There'll be a second round of applications in late 2013. I think a lot of people are sitting back waiting to see what round one looks like."

Advised Fiol: "I'd say stay away for now."

David Phelps • 612-673-7269

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