In an unprecedented move that will change the way everyone uses the Internet, the traditional .com domain names are being challenged by the introduction of more than a thousand new alternatives. These alternative domains, including restaurant industry-focused keywords such as .coffee, .menu, .kitchen and .recipes, are intended to better target both business owners and their customers. But how significant are they and what options do brand and trademark owners have to protect their online presence?
 
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit body that oversees web addresses, is launching more than a thousand new Internet suffixes, called generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs). These new domains are intended to better organize the Internet.
 
For a restaurant, its name, along with its food and service, is the brand. It is critically important for the brand to be promoted and protected on the Internet. This new era of the Internet will directly impact search engine optimization (SEO), sales and marketing for brand owners in the restaurant industry.

Here are four essential tips that restaurant owners should follow to protect their brands and trademarks in this expanding internet landscape:
 
1. Learn about new domains before they launch. To get the most out of an online presence, it’s important to know when the new gTLDs that are of interest to your consumer base will become available for claim or purchase. By monitoring for new gTLD releases, brand owners can effectively decide how better to use the Internet to market their restaurants. Check out the Trademark Clearinghouse (TMCH) website as well as other resources to learn more about these launch dates.
 
2. Be strategic about registration. As important as it is to seek out TLDs that help your brand strategy, it’s equally as important to protect your restaurant or brand name in domains that could send the wrong message to potential customers. Making sure your company isn’t associated with certain TLDs (e.g. .SUCKS, .WTF, etc.) can be done through various brand protection programs being offered. A domain registry like Donuts offers a brand protection program for its 200-plus TLDs. Other companies, including ICM, offer similar services.  
 
3. Focus on SEO. This new Internet paradigm is changing the way SEO works. Restaurant owners and operators should obtain their name/brand in TLDs that are most relevant to their restaurant’s SEO. For example, if your restaurant receives a majority of its business through take-out and delivery orders, .menu would be an optimal TLD to have for users looking for menus online.
 
4. Know your rights. If someone else has already purchased a domain name in a new TLD that matches your restaurant’s name or trademark, there are solutions. You can proceed against them through a URS (Uniform Rapid Suspension system) dispute resolution action; the UDRP (Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy) out-of-court dispute resolution mechanism; or private negotiation. Of course, these options are reactive and often cost substantially more than the costs of simply purchasing the domain names you want, in advance.
 
There are certain things you can do now to ensure the most appropriate visibility for your brands and marks:
 
• Register your trademark in the TMCH so that you can have the first opportunity to purchase domain names.

• Decide which TLDs you want to purchase in order to prevent anyone else from having access to them, and which registries offer the greatest discounts and make this process easiest.

• Buy the names that match your marks in the TLDs that are relevant to your business.
 
Stuart Lawley is c.e.o. of ICM Registry, which in 2012 became one of the first entities to release a new top level domain.