Domain blocking mechanisms are an important element of an organization’s defensive domain strategy. With the introduction of the New Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLD) Program by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) in 2013, brand owners were faced with a new challenge—protecting their marks without overburdening their budgets. Defensive domain registrations were and still are an effective way in which a brand can protect itself in domain namespaces. A brand-owned domain name meant that domain name was out of the reach of third parties and therefore could not be used for phishing, distribution of malware, or destroying the brand relationships with its customers, investors, and vendors.
However, defensive registrations of brands across all of the available new gTLDs can be cost-prohibitive. Few corporations would actually register every product or service brand name and their variations in 1,000 new gTLDs. While defensive registrations are still an essential part of any corporate domain name strategy, domain blocks create a helpful alternative, as they allow brand owners to effectively block registration of their brand name across several buckets of new gTLDs.
What is “domain blocking?”
Domain blocking is a top-level domain registry service that allows brand owners to block potential third-party registrations from other organizations or cybersquatters. The blocked domain registration would be the second-level string, for example, “mybrand” in “mybrand.com.” Domain blocking is an essential part of a defensive domain name strategy as it can give brand owners an authority over the blocked domain name—almost to the same extent as being the registrant of the domain name, yet at a fraction of the total registration fee.
History behind blocking programs
Blocking first started back in 2011 with the launch of .XXX TLD. The .XXX registry introduced a blocking program where trademark holders could block others from registering domain names containing their brands during their Sunrise B phase of the launch. Based on the nature of the TLD and its intended use, many trademark holders were happy to see this alternative option for defensive registrations, as many did not want to be associated with the adult entertainment industry. As the New gTLD Program gained momentum and new gTLDs came online, blocking came up again as a mechanism to help cope with the sudden expansion of the domain namespace.
Over the past 10 years, the blocking landscape has changed quite significantly. Multiple blocking mechanisms emerged and some disappeared over the years due to industry consolidations. Presently, domain blocks are offered by five new gTLD registries with coverage of their respective portfolio of new gTLDs. Together they form 33% of all new gTLDs.
So, block or not?
Each block is unique and can cover exact matches, variants, contained marks, misspellings, typos, homoglyphs, or internationalized domain names depending on the provider. Not every gTLD is covered by a domain block and no block is the same, so it’s important to understand the landscape before making the right blocking decision for your brand. When making the decision on which brands to block consider the following:
- Which are your core brands in use, or brands readily recognized by investors and users?
- Which of your brands are susceptible to phishing attempts by cyber criminals who prey on brands’ customers, suppliers, or employees?
- Which of your brands do you have Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) registration for?
- Are there brands that would create a reputation risk in addition to cyber security risks?
A blocked domain name does not resolve, so blocking should be applied when you don’t intend to use the domain name. Blocks help reduce cybersquatting and provide an active approach to protecting trademarks online. They can be an effective way of protecting one’s marks without breaking the bank as one block can cover up to 241 TLDs. They replace the need for mass defensive registrations, and can save costs by reducing the volume of enforcement activities or reputation damage.
Brand holders can choose to block, register defensively, or not act but monitor the space and take enforcement actions when necessary. They can choose to apply a different approach to different marks within their portfolio, depending on their budget and risk tolerance, or security posture. As you define your defensive domain strategy it’s important understand the differences between the blocks and find the budget versus risk balance for your organization.