MARINA DEL REY, California: The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers – the US government appointed not-for-profit organization that controls the global availability and allocation of internet domains – has set the cat among the pigeons with plans to launch a raft of new top-level domain name suffixes.

The current range (which includes ".com, .net, .biz, .info" and ".org") is fast running out of available options and ICANN is mulling a variety of add-ons for which it will start selling the rights in 2009.

These will include new business sector suffixes (such as ".hotel". ".law" or ".auto") plus geographic locations (."nyc" or ".dc") – even brand names like ".verizon".

It's this latter option that disturbs major businesses, who voice concern that if they don't register their trademarks at the new domains, their brand names could be hijacked – a situation that at best might  lead to brand degradation and, at worst, internet scams.

Says Sarah Deutsch, vp/ associate general counsel at Verizon: "Companies are in a difficult position. In one sense, they may feel compelled to register their crown jewels in all these locations because if they don't, an infringer will come along, and you will have to deal with the consequences. But at the same time, it's a huge waste of corporate resources."

Ken Hittel, vp of New York Life Insurance Company's corporate internet department agrees: "There is certainly a possibility that someone could create a site that looks like a legitimate New York Life site, then request Social Security numbers to get account information. The New York Life brand would suffer if any scheme like that were successful, and consumers would suffer, too,"

ICANN, however, is making reassuring noises and promises it will "carefully review" any organization that applies to operate a new top-level domain.

Soothes Paul Levins, the group's evp of corporate affairs: "No one is saying that there won't be challenges in this, but there are enormous innovation opportunities as well."

He omitted to add that the scheme will also generate millions of dollars in revenues for ICANN and its commercial web associates.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal Online; additional content by WARC staff