Name.Space.Info on Thu, 22 Jul 1999 22:08:27 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> Toplevel Domains: Private Property or Public Resource? (fromwired news)

>From Wired News

     .Web (TM)?
     Oscar S. Cisneros

     3:00 a.m.  21.Jul.99.PDT
     A trademark squabble over proposed new
     top-level Internet domains may lead to a
     monopoly similar to that currently enjoyed by
     Network Solutions.

     The spat centers around a handful of proposed
     new domains -- .web, .firm, .shop, .rec, .nom,
     and .info -- that are expected to relieve pressure
     on the hopelessly overbooked .com.

     Image Online Design fired the opening round in
     the fight this past weekend when the firm sent
     cease-and-desist letters to two companies vying
     to compete in the new domain-name market, the
     Council of Internet Registrars (CORE) and

     IOD has maintained a .web registry since 1996,
     though precious few domain-name servers
     recognize the extension.

     "We're telling them that IOD has trademark
     rights to .web for use with registry and registrar
     services," said Wesley Monroe, an attorney for
     Image Online Design.

     "We've asked them to stop using our mark in
     registry and registrar services and to respect our

     While IOD is asking both CORE and Name.Space
     to quit registering new domains with the
     extension .web, it's reserving particular ire for
     CORE, a nonprofit group of Internet registrars
     from 23 countries which recently applied for a
     trademark over the term .web.

     "What CORE did last month was to apply for a
     trademark on .web, knowing full well that we had
     it all along," said IOD founder Christopher
     Ambler. "It's the same thing as if Burger King
     came along and said, 'Look, we're going to
     market a burger called the Big Mac.'"

     For its part, CORE has been busily building fences
     around top-level domains that it thinks should be
     added to the Web.

     "CORE's purpose in filing the service-mark
     applications is to demonstrate its continued
     interest in operating registries for the new
     [generic top-level domains], and to protect its
     rights to do so," said CORE CEO Ken Stubbs in a
     prepared statement.

     In early March CORE filed service-mark
     applications with the US Patent and Trademark
     Office for .web, .firm, .shop, .rec, .nom, and .info.

     CORE declined to comment on the claims of
     Image Online Design. Nor would the group
     discuss whether it would enforce exclusive rights
     against other registrars if awarded service marks
     from the USPTO.

     The group suggested through a spokesperson,
     however, that enforcing intellectual property rights
     in generic top-level domains was contrary to its
     mission of bringing nonprofit registry services to
     the public.

     Others individuals question whether one company
     can erect a fence around a top-level domain and
     call it its own.

     "It is settled law that the function of domain
     registration does not constitute a trademark
     inherently," said Paul Garrin, CEO and founder of
     domain name registrar Name.Space. 

     "We don't believe that anybody owns top-level
     domains. We see them as something to be
     managed, not trademarked and owned."

     Domain-name trademark specialist Sally Abel,
     with the firm Fenwick & West, said that no one
     company can own a trademark .com, .org, or

     "The trademark office has taken the position that
     the existing top-level domains are not
     trademarks and are generic terms," said Abel.

     But, she added, the increasing emphasis on the
     commercialization of domain-name spaces
     makes trademarks in top-level domains at least
     more "tenable."

     "These are certainly uncharted waters," she said,
     adding that asserting private ownership of
     domains is bad for society in the long run.

     But this whole trademark side battle could be
     moot, said Mike Roberts, president and CEO of
     the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and
     Numbers (ICANN), the entity charged by the US
     government with introducing competition into the
     domain registry business.

     ICANN has been busily prepping for the scrutiny
     of this week's congressional hearings on its
     oversight of the domain-name space, Roberts

     The issue of how, which, and when -- or if -- new
     top-level domains will be introduced won't be
     looked at until this fall when a working group
     studying the issue will present its findings and
     recommendations to the ICANN board, he said.

     "The working group is going to look at all that,
     but they're just beginning their work," Roberts
     said. "It's a question between two parties that
     apparently have different legal views, and it
     doesn't involve us right now."

     Of course, ICANN isn't bound to accept any of the
     top-level domains proposed by the various
     parties involved. And without that group's
     approval, top-level domains such as .web won't
     be recognized by the Internet's root servers.

     Still, if one company can be awarded a trademark
     over an entire top-level domain, the Internet may
     head back down the same monopoly road from
     which it is only now emerging.

     "It's not frivolous to say that you have
     protectable rights [in top-level domains such as
     .web], but a better result would be to say that you
     don't," Abel said.

     Copyright  1994-99 Wired Digital Inc. All rights




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