For years limited to the familiar .com, .org and a handful of other extensions, top-level Internet domain names are about to get a whole lot more colorful as the number of domains rises to hundreds or even thousands.
The non-profit International Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which administers Internet names, will begin taking applications for new domains next January.
California-headquartered ICANN decided to expand the number of top-level domains last June, Chen Jihong, a partner in the Zhonglun Law Firm, said at a legal forum in Beijing on Nov 26.
"The (current) Internet infrastructure means vying for limited resources, Chen said. Vastly more domain names "will change the Internet landscape and trigger a change in corporate branding strategies".
Brad White of ICANN told Voice of America that the new approach allows "almost any word combination".
"It can be in non-Latin characters, which is extremely important if you happen to use the Cyrillic alphabet, or Arabic, or Chinese," he said.
In combination with revolutionary technologies for mobile Internet and cloud computing, creation of almost unlimited domains will lead to new business models, said Wang Liang, an engineer at the China Academy of Telecommunication Research.
It will help expand brand influence and innovate businesses, he said.
Attorney Chen said global giants that have already announced plans to use their names in top-level domains include IBM, Sony, Apple and Google.
Holders of existing trademarks will need to be wary, Wang said, to protect their trademarks or brands from use as domains by others.
As a result, costs for maintaining intellectual property rights are expected to rise sharply, he said.
Rules on new names mandate that they must have at least three letters in the case of English and cannot use numbers as those could be mistaken for part of an IP address.
Any application involving an ethnic group needs the endorsement of the group, Chen noted.
As competition for English domains is already fierce globally, Chen suggested Chinese applicants consider Chinese characters or Chinese translation versions as more feasible options, so "you'll face rivalries mainly from within the borders" of China.
In accordance with ICANN rules, applicants are requested to prove their financial and technological capability to run the operation. So preparing now is "rather urgent", the lawyer said.
"While the issue is hot like summer abroad, it is still cold here, like winter," Chen said. "If you haven't decided to start now, it may be too late to catch up."