This is a guest post by Jan Corstens, partner at Deloitte

The upcoming modifications to the Internet via the availability of hundreds of new web addresses presents a radical shift in the way consumers find information online, including a potentially significant disruption within the online healthcare industry.

With new web addresses available for the taking, including everything from .healthcare and .hospital to .Pfizer and .JNJ could begin appearing online by next year. This is a drastic departure from the traditional “.com” and “.org” endings that consumers are familiar with.

As the drive for healthcare businesses to establish or develop their online positioning with consumers has developed, companies have, until now, been forced to work with the limited number of domain names available.

This is all changing in a significant way with the decision by ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to make the web address landscape wide open.

ICANN’’s decision to open up additional generic top-level domain names (gTLDs) will allow brands to better establish themselves in the online landscape. With more widely available and more descriptive domain names coming to market, companies and consumers can avoid the confusion that comes from a complicated or irrelevant domain name.

Ahead of the rollout of these new web addresses, ICANN’s Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH), a central database of validated trademarks and the only authorized and universal means of protecting trademarks, is in place to help healthcare companies prepare for this change.

Since launching this in March 2013, the TMCH has received close to 20,000 entries, good for securing or protecting in the region of 40,000 terms in the new domain names.

This will help brand owners secure domain names to avoid cybersquatting (a user scooping up similar domains and charging an exorbitant fee to release them) or other trademark infringement (for instance, a user scooping up a similar domain with the intent of passing the site off as part of an established brand). Unfortunately, less than 1 percent of the entries from mark owners into the TMCH have so far been from the medical or pharmaceutical industry.

What this means for healthcare companies

This shockingly low percentage means a large number of healthcare companies remain unprotected despite the fact that the roll out is on its way right now –with the first domains already assigned and many more to follow. Why are the entries from this sector so low?

It’s certainly surprising given how much consumers rely on the web to undertake their own research; from checking symptoms to reading up on side-effects or even consulting with a doctor online.

It is therefore imperative that healthcare and pharmaceutical companies or their trademark agents consider entering marks into the Trademark Clearinghouse so they can either take advantage of the early (Sunrise) opportunities to register terms in the new domain names and / or be made aware of someone who might be trying to cash in on its brand. It is in no one’s best interest to expose consumers to being led astray by authentic sounding domain names that are actually unaffiliated with a brand.

What should my healthcare company do? 

The reality is that it’s time for companies in the healthcare vertical to hear alarm bells if they haven’t yet recorded their marks ahead of the new domain name roll out. In fact, organizations should work internally now to discuss the implications of the new domains, both positive and negative, and plan on dealing with this as proactively as possible.

Here’s how brand owners can start making moves towards protecting themselves, and their customers, using their existing trademarks:

  • Record marks in the Trademark Clearinghouse: In the past, brands had to individually record their trademarks with each and every new domain operator. Today, brand owners simply need to make one submission to one entity – the TMCH. This is a ‘one-stop’ global source of registered trademarks – it even accommodates trademarks in non-Latin scripts – thereby making the submission process much more straightforward for brand owners to protect their intellectual property both domestically and internationally.
  • Keep in Mind the Sunrise Period: Prior to the open launch of a new domain name space to the general public, a Sunrise Period will take place and that gives brand owners the chance to secure domain names that match their exact trademarks ahead of everyone else.  These may well have significant product or service marketing benefits.
  • Participate in the Trademark Claims System: This TMCH service included in the TMCH at no additional cost provides warnings, for at least a 90 day timeframe after each new web extension launches, where trademark holders receive notification alerts telling them if someone else registers a domain name that matching its trademark or trademarks.

The Internet is about to change very dramatically, and medical and pharmaceutical companies are some of the organizations best positioned to benefit, but also most likely to find themselves in hot water if their brands are infringed upon. It will be interesting to see which healthcare brands take advantage of the vast opportunities in the new domain names – and which get left behind.

Jan Corstens headshotJan Corstens is a partner in the Deloitte Belgian office and leads a team of experts in Contract Risk and Compliance services that operates on an EMEA wide level. Throughout the last 14 years, he has performed and managed multiple royalty and IP audits in the software, hardware and technology space.

Jan is leading a multidisciplinary Deloitte team, that is serving as a one-stop shop that can help companies with their Intellectual property, including defining their strategy, protecting IP through patent registration, drafting licensing or any other IP contracts and providing back-office services.

Jan is also active in providing services for the Internet community including TLD Sunrise procedures and helping trademark owners in setting up their own TLD. Jan is currently the Project Director for the Trademark Clearinghouse, an initiative that has been created to help brand owners protect their intellectual property within ICANN’s new generic Top Level Domain program.

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