Dot-Info, Dot-Biz, Dot-Chaos

By SmallBusinessComputing Staff | Posted November 02, 2001
By William C. Gillis

It's hard enough remembering all the new top-level domain names approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN): .aero, .biz, .coop, .info, .museum, .name, and .pro. What's perhaps more confusing is the process used to register new domains. In particular, the two companies overseeing the .biz and .info registries have been accused of running unfair, and possibly illegal, registration processes.

Last year ICANN selected Afilias, a Newtown, Pa.-based consortium of 18 of the world's leading domain name registrars, to run the .info registry. Afilias set up a so-called 'Sunrise Period,' during which legitimate trademark holders were permitted to reserve .info domains. The period, which ran between July 25 and August 25, was specifically designed to prevent 'cybersquatters' from fraudulently claiming trademarked addresses. On August 26, registrations were opened to the non-trademark holding general public.

Trademark holders and cybersquatter-watchers charge that many of the applications accepted by Afilias during the Sunrise Period do not belong to legitimate trademark holders. Roland LaPlante, chief marketing officer with Afilias, says that any trademark holder who suspects someone has fraudulently reserved that mark should go through Afilias' challenge process. The challenge period runs from August 28 to December 26. 'If you're a trademark holder that finds someone is camped out on your space before you get there, you have the right to challenge them,' LaPlante says. Trademark holders that choose to challenge must pay a $295 fee, all but $75 of which would be refunded if the challenger wins.

LaPlante believes that a domain-name registration process without some sort of resolution period is not realistic yet. 'I think we need a challenge period until the world has a coordinated international trademark database, which we're far from having,' he says.

David Segal, an intellectual property attorney with the law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP, suggests that businesses investigate trademarking to protect themselves down the line. 'Most small businesses don't have trademark registrations, from my experience,' Segal says. 'Trademark registration is not terribly expensive, and it really provides some good protection.'

Afilias is not the only domain-name registry battling complaints and legal issues. Sterling, Va.-based NeuLevel, which runs the .biz registry, has a unique system in which applicants pay a fee, ranging from $4 to $15, to apply for a .biz address. Applicants can apply as often as they wish; for every application entered, the chances of winning that address increase.

Some frustrated seekers of .biz addresses claim that NeuLevel's process is an illegal lottery. At the end of July, Amazon.com sent a letter to NeuLevel, threatening to sue the company if it did not abandon its procedures. In August, NeuLevel asked U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia to declare that NeuLevel's agreement with ICANN does not violate federal trademark statutes or lottery laws. At press time, the court had not yet made a decision.


IN OTHER NEWS

EVERYBODY'S OUTSOURCING: The U.S. Defense Department announced that it will implement a new human resources and payroll system from PeopleSoft Inc. The department will use PeopleSoft's Internet-based software to manage personnel and payroll for all branches of the military. The system should be up and running next year.

TAX HELP FOR BUSINESSES: In August the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) began offering a free CD-ROM, 'The Small Business Resource Guide 2001 - What You Need to Know About Taxes and Other Topics.' The CD-ROM is an interactive tool that covers topics such as special tax rules, required tax records, and employment taxes. The guide is available on line at www.sba.gov, or by calling 1-800-U-ASK-SBA.

SAFETY STATS: Are hands-free cell phones safe to use while driving? According to a study by General Motors, the odds of getting into a car crash while using a hands-free cell phone are 1 in 4 million. Another study by the University of Utah, however, suggests drivers have significantly slower response times when using either a hands-free or handheld model.
- W.C.G.

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