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Rock concert promoters long ago learned that first-come, first-served seating is an invitation to chaos. The Internet’s organizers are just now starting to heed that lesson. When the Web first boomed, people grabbed domain names — the virtual equivalent of a center-stage seat — regardless of whether they had legitimate claims to them. Trademark owners often found that their names had been taken by competitors, college kids, or hijackers. In the end, many trademark owners won their names back, but the battles came at a cost. This year, new suffixes for domain names will appear in cyberspace. The creation of these new suffixes, including dot-info, dot-biz, and dot-name, is a second chance for trademark owners. It also may be very good business for the registry companies that hand them out. Currently VeriSign Inc. handles the registration of dot-coms, dot-nets, and dot-orgs. An Internet security company, VeriSign bought Network Solutions Inc., the original registry of Internet addresses, for $17 billion in spring 2000. VeriSign today is worth about $10 billion, but it’s still an Internet superstar. The introduction of new suffixes will break VeriSign’s monopoly as a registry. Only one of the new top-level domains, dot-biz, will likely cause a great splash in the corporate world. It will compete directly with dot-com for the business of for-profit businesses. (Currently, there are more than 22 million registered dot-coms.) “There will be situations in which [dot-biz] relieves a scarcity,” says Mark Lemley, professor of law at the University of California, Berkeley’s Boalt Hall School of Law and of counsel in the Menlo Park, Calif., office of Boston’s Fish & Richardson. The companies that register the new domains — called, appropriately enough, registries — are trying to strike a balance that will please both trademark owners and holders of domain names. To understand what a registry does, you also need to understand registrars. Think of them together as the back end and front end of the registration process. Registries manage the database of domain names (think: the computers that hold your motor vehicle registration information). Registrars accept applications and deal directly with customers (the DMV clerk at the counter). Over the life of the Web, there have been numerous sorts of trademark disputes. Cybersquatters snag domains in the hopes of extracting cash from trademark owners. Cybergripers use variations of trademarked names to make statements — usually contrary ones (� la Walmart sucks.com). Trademark owners have generally won these cases in court and in arbitration. And then there are the most difficult disputes, in which two companies lay claim to the same name. Under trademark law, more than one company in distinct businesses can legitimately lay claim to those names. Take common names: United, Delta, American. You can have United (United Air Lines Inc.; United Technologies Corporation); Delta (Delta Airlines Inc.; Delta Faucet Company); American (American Airlines Inc.; American Express Company.) And so on. But only one company can grab American dot-com. (Strangely, the company that owns it is Cisco Systems Inc.) The new suffixes will not make these sorts of conflicts disappear. “Resolving those kinds of disputes is still uncertain,” says Lee Plave, chair of the domain name practice group at Washington, D.C.’s Piper Marbury Rudnick & Wolfe. The registries for dot-biz and dot-info have different approaches to dealing with these thorny issues. The first-come, first-served land rush of yesteryear is out, replaced by a multistep process in which trademark owners can essentially reserve names, or at least keep cybersquatters at bay. NeuLevel Inc. (www.neulevel.com), the company that will administer dot-biz, has created what it calls an IP claims service. Registered trademark owners and those with common-law rights had until Aug. 6 to file notice of their trademarks and their interest in protecting them. NeuLevel then placed these names on a database. During the initial application round, which was due to end Monday, NeuLevel crosschecks all applications against the trademark database. An applicant can still be awarded a domain name corresponding with a trademark in the database, but only after the trademark owner has been notified and the domain name has been put on hold for 30 days. This hold period gives the trademark owner the opportunity to seek the domain name, either in court or through a dispute resolution process called STOP, which stands for Startup Trademark Opposition Policy. Afilias Ltd. (www.afilias.com), the registry for dot-info, has a different system for protecting IP rights, called a sunrise period. (The sunrise period was completed last month.) During this period, trademark owners were able to reserve their mark as a domain name, as long as it contained exactly the same letters. “This is the most equitable way for bona fide trademarks,” says Roland LaPlante, chief marketing officer for Afilias. After the claims and sunrise periods, respectively, comes the actual application process: Entities apply to NeuLevel or Afilias for a specific domain. Dot-info names will go live this month; dot-biz names in October. Both companies say they expect millions of applications this year. When multiple trademark owners apply for the same dot-biz trademark owner, they will be subject to a random drawing. NeuLevel puts all identical domain name applications into a computerized hat and picks a winner. Afilias, on the other hand, chooses the first to file in the dot-info domain. These systems are untested. Already the lawyers are worrying. That’s what they are paid to do. “It’s more organized, yes, but I don’t know if it’s necessarily better,” says Jennifer Lee Taylor, an IP partner at San Francisco’s Morrison & Foerster. The additional suffixes will just increase the amount of work that large companies with dozens or hundreds of domain names must do to seek and protect these names. And if dot-biz never takes off, the companies are stuck with domains they may never actually use. But the real unknown is how speedily and fairly disputes will be resolved. A little history: After cybersquatting came into vogue, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the nonprofit group that administered Web sites, created the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy. This policy empowered arbitration panels to resolve disputes quickly through an online forum. Trademark owners can also go to court, but most choose arbitration. NeuLevel has created STOP, its own version. Afilias will rely on the existing UDRP. Here’s how STOP works. If a trademark owner has filed an IP claim, it will be notified when another party tries to register that name. If the nontrademark owner eventually gets the domain name, the trademark owner can try to get it back through arbitration. In order to justify a STOP claim, the overlapping name must have the exact same letters and numbers, in the exact same order. The winner gets the name. It’s that simple. Under the existing UDRP policy now in force on the Internet, the domain name does not have to be identical, merely “confusingly similar” to the trademark. The true definition of “identical,” though, is still up in the air, says Plave of Piper Marbury, because it is not clear whether or not it includes ampersands, apostrophes, and the like. The UDRP has been a good thing for trademark owners, who win 60 percent of the cases brought to arbitration. Will trademark owners give STOP a green light? On the one hand, owners will know beforehand when rivals covet their trademarks. On the other hand, they will know only about those who are trying to register a domain name identical to their mark, not about those that may be merely similar. Confused? It’s understandable. The Internet community has spent more than five years trying to introduce these new suffixes. The Internet may change many things, but not the compromises and complexities of rule-making. Amid the confusion, there is only one true thing: STOP has a catchier name than UDRP. But what’s in a name, anyway?

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