With all the new GTLDs being rolled out by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the question of whether a GTLD can be trademarked has become the big issue. The answer is relatively straightforward. A GTLD cannot in and of itself be trademarked. But if the GTLD is in fact an indicator of source and origin (i.e., .google, .deloit, .aarp, .censure, .ford, .amazon, etc.) then the GTLD can be trademark protected.
Currently, there are a number of legal rights and objections that have been filed on a variety of GTLD applications claiming that the applied-for GTLD infringes an existing right of a trademark owner. Many of the objections, however, deal with clearly generic and/or descriptive dictionary words. Those GTLD legal right objections will, no doubt, fail because they seek protection of the GTLD itself which is purely descriptive of some vertical (i.e., .golf, .analytics, .apartments, .architect, .art, etc.). While a variety of trademarks have been filed by a variety of applicants for otherwise descriptive/generic GTLDs, those applicants have typically had to disclaim exclusive rights in the word or have filed design class word marks knowing they can't achieve trademark rights in the word itself.
Below is an example of a refusal by the USPTO examining attorney analyzing the issue and providing the analysis which virtually precludes dictionary words from achieving exclusive trademark rights as a GTLD registry:
SECTION 2(E)(1) – MERE DESCRIPTIVENESS REFUSAL
Registration is refused because the applied-for mark merely describes the field of applicant’s services.
Trademark Act Section 2(e)(1), 15 U.S.C. §1052(e)(1); see TMEP §§1209.01(b), 1209.03 et seq.
Top-level domains or TLDs often describe the subject matter or user of the domain space. In re the Dot communs. Network LLC, 2011 TTAB LEXIS 366 (Trademark Trial & App. Bd. Nov. 22, 2011). When the applied-for top-level domain engenders the commercial impression of a top-level domain and the top-level domain operator registers domain names, consumers would anticipate that the top-level domain identifies the registration of domains in the field identified in the mark. Id. Moreover, the TTAB has held that top-level domains are descriptive for other services where the applied-for mark directly conveys to relevant consumers that the services are related to the field specified in the mark. Id. Specifically, consumers would expect ancillary goods and services to be rendered by the operator of top-level domain registry in the same field as the domain name registration services. Id.
Here, applicant’s mark, combines the term DOT, meaning “the character that separates the different parts of the domain name” with [dictionary word], meaning “services that enables real estate brokers to establish contractual offers of compensation (among brokers), facilitates cooperation with other broker participants, accumulates and disseminates information to enable appraisals, and is a facility for the orderly correlation and dissemination of listing information to better serve broker's clients, customers and the public” for services featuring and related to top-level domain names in the field of real estate listings. See Attachment 1 – Microsoft Internet & Networking Dictionary definition of DOT; see also Attachment 2 – Dictionary.com definition of [dictionary word] and Wikipedia listing for multiple listing service.
Purchasers would perceive the applied for mark as a TLD because it is structured in the manner of a top-level domain. That is, purchasers are accustomed to the combination of a decimal point followed immediately by a term or phrase as a top-level domain. See, i.e., Attachment 3 – examples of top level domains that would lead purchasers to the conclusion that the applied-for mark is a top level domain. When used in connection with top-level domain name registration consulting, purchasers will not understand the mark as denoting applicant as the source of the services, but as conveying salient information about the services.
Ultimately, when purchasers encounter applicant’s services using the mark DOT[dictionary word], they will immediately understand the mark as an indication that applicant’s consultation services relate to the registration of top-level domains in the field of real estate and not an indication that applicant is the source of the services. Therefore, the mark is merely descriptive of the field of applicant’s services and registration is refused pursuant to Section 2(e)(1) of the Trademark Act.