What gTLDs and Patents Forecast for Digital Marketers

You might not think that a gTLD (generic top-level domain) and patents have much in common. But, if you look at which new top-level domains big companies plan to operate and compare them to recent patent filings by the same companies, you might be able to spot trends in digital media.

Take Comcast, for example. Comcast applied for Dot COMCAST and Dot XFINITY, but Time Warner Cable did not apply for any gTLDs. Comcast has also filed 65 percent of its 241-strong patent portfolio in the last three years and recently filed patent applications for inventions like a “recommendation system” and “playlists within a network” or “predictive content caching” and “crowdsourcing supplemental content.” While these are merely titles of a complex patent application, it’s enough data to start to show a pattern of where they might be headed. Comcast knows the cord to traditional cable is being cut. So while they harvest a business model in its final phases, they are preparing for what comes next. They are buying gTLDs that could be used as a distribution channels. They are investing in patentable technology to help consumers use that gTLD platform, or other technology for that matter, when consumers shift from cable based entertainment to internet based entertainment. Time Warner Cable has a portfolio of 281 patents with 170 filed in the last three years, but they’re heavily focused on pictorial communication or television rather than digital data processing or transmission of digital information. Is it that surprising Time Warner needs an exit strategy?

Likewise, Google, which applied for 100 new gTLDs, and Amazon, which applied for 75 new gTLDs, are also expanding their digital patent portfolios. Google has 10,625 patents with nearly half of them issued in the last three years. Amazon has 2,006 issued patents and 1,537 were issued in the last three years.

Recent Google filings include “customizable media channels,” “interfaces to allow video ad serving into a mobile phone application video stream,” “recommending media programs based on media program popularity,” “social aspects of media guides,” “self-service channel marketplace,” and “presenting mobile content based on programming content.” Recent Amazon filings include “providing gift clustering to assist a user in ordering multiple items for a recipient,” “securing content using a wireless authentication factor,” “surface based location determination,” “speech based shopping,” among many others and across a wide range of their services from logistics to the consumer digital experience.

What the gTLD Applications Tell You

The companies who applied for a gTLD, and particularly those who applied for a lot of gTLDs, want to own their brand or channel of the Internet. They get that cable is being cut and that things will change in the future so they want to be sure they own this digital asset. While many remain skeptical about the role of the gTLD, those companies who understand the use of the gTLD as a technology platform and not just a domain name, as well as how to paint the canvas of the gTLD to make a better consumer experience, will leverage not just their leading edge position in the digital world, but also be prepared for a long-term exclusive channel on the Internet.

For most businesses, their online presence is central to an overall strategy and one of their most important assets. Why wouldn’t you want to lock it down for your own exclusive use, if only to be prepared for the future?

Companies who applied for gTLDs include AOL, Apple, IBM, Microsoft, ABC, CBS, HBO, Netflix, Sony, Flickr, Yahoo, NFL, NBA, MLB, The Weather Channel, XBOX, and Lego, to name just a few of the media and entertainment companies, not to mention a wide range of retail, consumer goods, pharma, technology, and automobile companies. Nearly half of Interbrand’s list of top brands applied for a gTLD.

Some of the most interesting applications included Johnson & Johnson for dot BABY, Oriental Trading for dot FUN, Dish Network for dot DISH, DATA, DOT, DTV, LATINO, LOCKER, MOBILE, OLLO, OTTO, and dot PHONE, Hughes for dot STREAM and SLING, and Walmart for dot GROCERY and GEORGE.

What Patents Tell You

In the United States, we live in a first-to-file system. The first company to file for a patent will typically acquire it. This means big companies file for patents as soon as they think they have something valuable. Once it’s published, it’s publicly available and you can track trends about who is filing for what and review basic technology areas to plot onto predictive graphs.

For example, recent patent filings show that Yahoo is building a personal video inbox and that Hulu and AOL are beefing up their patent portfolios. Google and Disney are both preparing for phones and tablets to be used as a remote control.

Monitoring what patents are being filed, particularly in a rapidly changing digital environment, can help you see where companies are headed, what new services they might be trying to sell, or how they may try to push consumer behavior. It can also signal when traditional media, consumer goods, or retail companies are gearing up for a digital play. While some of it may be logical, the patent filings show the specifics and can help you have a competitive edge if you pay attention to the signs.

And, don’t forget about design patents. Design patents can sometimes predict future trends that are not always numbers-based. The Samsung–Apple patent fight was largely over design. And pop culture stars like Michael Jackson, Eddie Van Halen, and even Batman have patented their iconic style.

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How to Track This Information

All of this information is public record and can be tracked through data bases including the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office or through the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names & Numbers) status page on the new gTLD program. While the talk of big data is focused on tracking consumer behavior, rightfully so, don’t neglect to include some of the other more nuanced areas of data that can help you see where the marketplace may shift as a result of corporate investment in new technologies.

Why It Matters

You don’t want to be reading about what’s happening in your industry in the newspaper after it happens and have your CMO ask you why your company wasn’t filing for digital patents or applying for gTLDs. By tracking these important signals, you can predict future trends and be prepared strategically and defensively for the digital transformations that affect us all.

Homepage image via Shutterstock.

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