Canon made headlines and gave a small amount of momentum to the idea of “.brand” top-level domains when it announced, a year ago, that it would apply to ICANN to manage .canon.
There are plenty of good reasons why the company would want the TLD.
Beyond the more obvious search-oriented branding opportunities, some say Canon could try to boost customer loyalty and create new revenue streams by offering camera buyers services such as photo hosting at personalized .canon domains.
But here’s another reason that doesn’t seem to have received many column inches: as I recently discovered from a few continental friends, “canon” also means “sexy” in French slang.
I expect this coincidence was the very least of Canon’s concerns when its executives met to discuss their .brand TLD strategy, but it does highlight a major issue that some companies will have to deal with when the ICANN new gTLD program gets underway.
They may think their brand is unique, but unless they’ve done their homework they may find themselves competing with, or blocked by, equally legitimate applicants from other nations.
Companies planning to participate in the program – even only as a challenger – will need to have done a fairly daunting audit of their key brands if they want to avoid nasty surprises.
Ensuring a brand is a unique, registered trademark in one’s home territory is only the beginning.
Companies need to also ask themselves what, if anything, their mark means in other languages, what it looks like in non-Latin scripts such as Arabic and Chinese, and whether it has similarity of “appearance, phonetic sound, or meaning” to any other potential new TLD string.
We already have at least one double entendre in the DNS – the ccTLD for the tiny Pacific island of Niue, .nu, means “.naked” in French, as the registry discovered to its benefit many years ago.
If Canon had not decided to apply for .canon, could a French-speaking pornographer have applied for the TLD instead, on the quite reasonable basis that it is also a “generic” string?
ICANN’s trademark protection policies would make such a delegation highly unlikely, but Canon would have found itself forced into a defensive fight to protect its mark.
Of more immediate concern to the company is of course the question of who gets to register canon.xxx.
It seems likely that ICM Registry’s sunrise policy is strong enough to ensure that this particular .xxx domain is never used for pornography, but only if a) no existing pornographer has a trademark on the string and b) Canon remembers to defensively register.
In the unlikely event that Canon forgets to defend its mark, a pornographer who registered canon.xxx for a legitimate French porn site could well find himself with a UDRP-winning domain.
And don’t get me started on Virgin…