By Robert Evans
The Internet's key site identity system is in mounting danger from new
techniques that could cause havoc by turning it into a free-for-all
market, the World Intellectual Property Organization WIPO warned on
And the United Nations' agency said the latest trends in registering
top-level domain names (TLDs) -- like http://www.reuters.com -- could
undermine dispute procedures under which patent holders can pursue
"Domain names used to be primarily specific identifiers of businesses
and other Internet users, but many names nowadays are mere commodities
for speculative gain," senior WIPO official Francis Gurry told a news
Gurry, who runs the agency's own site-name dispute system, said the
growth of computer-driven practices, like automatic mass harvesting of
expired TLDs and "domain-name tasting," risks turning the system "into
a mostly speculative market."
It could also leave trademark owners, even rich and powerful
companies, facing virtually unmanageable challenges to their name
patents, and make it increasingly difficult for ordinary Internet
users to locate genuine sites.
In the early years of the Internet, the main challenge to the TLD
system -- which includes the generic .com, .net and .int addresses as
well as country codes like .fr (France) and .jp (Japan) -- came mainly
from individuals, so-called "cybersquatters."
These would register a site using a slight variation of the name of a
well-known firm or celebrity with an already existing Internet address
in the usually well-founded hope of being able to sell it at a high
Since 1999, WIPO has operated a system under which cybersquatters can
be challenged and have the sites they registered closed down or more
usually transferred to the genuine owner of the name, if an arbitrator
Over the past eight years, the WIPO system has handled nearly 10,200
cases, in which complainants won 85 percent. But still the number of
complaints has kept growing, reaching 1,823 last year, the most since
Gurry said the new techniques used by cybersquatters -- who include
many adapting common drug names to sell doubtful or fake medicines
over the Internet -- meant the volume of potential new cases was
Among these techniques was the use of computer software to automatically
detect expired site names, re-register them with one of the thousands
of official registrars around the world and park them on portals
bringing advertising revenue.
Another was the introduction by registrars, whose numbers are also
growing rapidly, of a system of free-of-charge five-day "tasting
periods" during which sites can bring in advertising revenue and then
be closed, only to be re-registered elsewhere.
Domain names, said Gurry, are becoming "moving targets for rights
Copyright 2007 Reuters Limited.
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