Growth in internationalized domain names continues

International

The past few months have seen a number of developments in relation to internationalized domain names (IDNs) - the registration of names in characters other than those traditionally used by the English language. This is despite the fact that IDNs still do not have the same functionality as names using English characters. Many web browsers cannot support them and special 'plug-in' software must be downloaded in order to use them. However, it is expected that IDNs will continue to grow in popularity considering the fact that only around one-third of internet users speak English as their native language.

On January 18 2005 IDNs became available under the '.org' generic top-level domain (gTLD). The '.org' gTLD is the third largest gTLD after '.com' and '.net' with over 3 million names registered worldwide. It is traditionally aimed at non-profit and non-commercial organizations. For the time being only the three German characters 'ä', 'ö', and 'ü' are available, a move that reflects the popularity of IDNs in Germany. However, Public Interest Registry - the registry for the '.org' gTLD - hopes to introduce 10 other languages during the third quarter of 2005.

The Chinese domain name registry, China Internet Network Information Centre, has also announced that foreign entities may now register '.cn' domain names using Chinese characters, a service that was only previously available to local entities. However, the rules for second-level domain names such as '.com.cn' or '.net.cn' have not changed. The change marks the Chinese government's desire to encourage foreign investment in China and underlines the popularity of '.cn', which, although only launched in March 2003, now has over 200,000 registrations.

Finally, the American Samoan registry, ASNIC, has announced that IDNs are now available on a first come, first served basis. A total of 92 new characters will be possible. ASNIC is currently processing IDN pre-registration requests that were put into a pre-registration 'queue'. Domain names for which a single application has been received will be processed and awarded, provided that payment has been received. Domains for which more than one pre-registration request has been received will be sorted by proposed domain name holder, and all but one of the pre-registrations for a given domain name from a specific holder will be dropped. Names will then be awarded at random by a lottery process.

ASNIC has announced that it believes that the selection method described above is the fairest way to allocate an IDN when multiple requests for the name are received. This is because it supposedly neutralizes any additional advantage that might be gained by a prospective domain name holder from submitting multiple applications, either directly or through single or multiple registrars. Furthermore, the registry believes that any IP issues that might arise should be dealt with post-registration via the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy process in place to handle disputes involving '.as' names. This goes against the more common scenario of introducing a sunrise period. There will therefore be no preferential treatment given to holders of prior IP rights.

David Taylor and Jane Seager, Lovells, Paris

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