Who Shall Own .China or .Arabia? Internet IP Questions On The Rise 11/01/2006 by Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch 1 Comment Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window)By Monika Ermert for Intellectual Property Watch The cry for internationalized Internet domain names (IDNs) gets louder at every meeting related to Internet management, standardisation or politics. But questions of technology that once slowed the spread of Internet names into other languages have now been overtaken by policy questions, including those relating to intellectual property. The Internet was built upon western languages, especially English, and with its growth other language groups have pushed for the Internet to be readable in their tongues, referred to as “internationalising.” The documents of the recent United Nations-led World Summit on the Information Society make a clear commitment to “fight against the linguistic digital divide” and “advance the process for the introduction of multilingualism in a number of areas including domain names, email addresses and keyword look-up.” But internationalising the domain name space will lay difficult intellectual property questions on the table. Technology once seen as a barrier because of the all-English nature of the Internet domain name system (DNS) now seems to be the minor problem, while policy questions are much more complicated. The greater interest in IDNs is demonstrated by ongoing work at technical standardisation bodies like the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF). The IETF started a new working group on solutions for internationalised email addresses. The Internet Architecture Board (IAB), which oversees the IETF work, in December finalised a report on next steps in internationalisation at the request of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), which itself just set up its second Advisory Group on IDN. ICANN at its recent board meeting in Vancouver hosted a full seven-hour session on the topic with representatives of the non-English Internet world that has long sought an Internet that “speaks” their languages or, better, “writes” their scripts. Parallel Internet domains growing There is for example a Chinese version of the .com zone, the dominant suffix in the English-speaking world, commercially used in China. There are Hebrew email addresses launched in Israel four years ago, according to Yoav Keren, CEO of Domain.net. “English domain names are a barrier,” says Keren. “They are a barrier for people that don’t speak English.” In addition, there are also two root servers serving Arabic-only domain names – written from right to left – for the “Arabic Domain Name Pilot Project” in Saudi Arabia and in the United Arab Emirates, reported Abdulaziz Al-Zoman, director of SaudiNic, the registry for .sa-domains. “We see the version two of the ICANN IDN guidelines still only pushing for IDN.English,” says Al-Zoman. “That is not what we wanted. What we really want is IDN.IDN”. Up to now it was acceptable to let things go in different ways, said Subramanian Subbiah, co-founder of idns.net, an IDN solution provider that used a plug-in to solve the language riddle locally within the user’s personal computer. “But I think we have reached a point where we will have to start doing something in a concerted way together. Otherwise, we will go through a period of some difficulty.” But difficulties lie ahead also as soon as the Internet gets non-English address zones – or more correctly non-ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) address zones. A key question is who will be given the right to define a certain script? China, Korea and Japan, for example, share Chinese characters in their different languages and had to get together to define which character set should go online. “I have a language, a script, many countries. I have one language, many scripts, one country. Or one country, many scripts, many countries. Or one country, many scripts, many languages. It’s a host of permutation combinations,” said Pankaj Agrawala, who represents the Indian government in ICANN’s Government Advisory Committee (GAC). A WTO-like negotiation on Internet space? In the future, according to Agrawala, there might even arise intergovernmental negotiations like those under the former General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) or its successor, the World Trade Organization (WTO). “In two, three years time I will be seeing countries negotiating over who should be taking the first right over a particular name or how do you give the priority to a particular resource that has been created on the multilingual environment,” said Agrawala. The GAC also has set up a working group on IDN. One first choice of technology already will heavily impact how the internationalised Internet will look like. At ICANN’s early December Vancouver meeting, VeriSign (which manages the .com and .net domains) presented the DNAME concept that allows mapping a zone of addresses to another zone by relying on standardised resource records, non-technically speaking labels attached to the domain names. Pat Kane, director of business operations and policy in VeriSign’s naming services business unit explained the DNAME concept: “If you came in as a Hangul representation or a Chinese representation or an Arabic representation of dot.com, whatever that would be defined as, it would map it to .com and that would resolve just as it does in .com today.” An advantage, according to Kane, would be that it would ensure a direct relationship between existing top level domains (such as .com) and local language representations and thereby reduce user confusion. Otherwise, what could occur to users, said Kane, is that a .com representation that is a transliteration in a market that was non-English could confuse users about the parallel .com-zones. In addition, the DNAME concept might possibly ease introduction of new top level domains (TLDs), such as .com. Compared with the current process of approving completely new TLDs, which ICANN Chairman Vint Cerf said has proven quite complicated. But John Klensin, former Internet Architecture Board member and author of a number of IDN standard drafts, said “there is almost no possibility that ICANN and the US government will permit countries or other domain owners to create DNAMEs at their whim.” While ICANN would be able to skip the regular financial and technical operational capability evaluations, he said, “the hard part– figuring out if a name is appropriate and to whom it should go– is the same in both cases.” Giving precedent to incumbent companies or newcomers Another key question is whether a DNAME concept would privilege incumbents like VeriSign. For .com, for example, the Chinese version is already deployed. “The root of a conflict has already started brewing with the fact that CNNIC [the Chinese country code registry operator, responsible for .cn] has decided to offer .com and .net in Chinese, and has apparently cut VeriSign out of it,” said Ram Mohan, CTO of Afilias, registry operator for .info, .org and several ccTLDs). Ram said he is leaning toward additions of new non-English domains to the root zone out of fairness to newcomers. But on the other hand he also said: ”The thing that would bother me is we spend four or five years working on developing what effectively becomes a famous brand name and then someone comes and says, ‘I own the language, therefore I shall take over.’” Meanwhile, the “are translations-name conflicts” issue, as Klensin calls it, is still not thought through on the level of users of domain names. With the debate over IDNs really getting started, it would appear there is much work ahead for intellectual property lawyers. Share this:Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)Click to share on LinkedIn (Opens in new window)Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)Click to print (Opens in new window) Related "Who Shall Own .China or .Arabia? Internet IP Questions On The Rise" by Intellectual Property Watch is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.