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From ISOC news

By David Maher, Vice President, Public Policy,

One of the great advances in enhancing the usability of the
Internet was the invention by Paul Mockapetris of the domain
name system (DNS). In lieu of long lists of strings of
digits to identify the networks in the Internet, domain
names are a user-friendly system. The DNS consists of
easily memorized words with extensions that originally
served to categorize the different types of users, such as
.edu for higher education, .mil for the military, and .com
for commercial users.

This is ancient history now. The World Wide Web and the
explosion of Internet users has turned the domain
name system into one of the most controversial aspects of
Internet administration. ICANN has announced its intention
to add new generic top level domains and has posted an
application form which requires, among other things, a US
$50,000 nonrefundable application fee. Notwithstanding the
complexity of the application form and the considerable
expense involved, numerous applicants have stepped forward
with a wide variety of proposals. Some proposals involve
open generic top level domains and others involve restricted
domains, such as .banc for financial institutions. The
trademark interests regard all of these with deep suspicion
because of fears that any new top level domains will simply
increase opportunities for cybersquatting.

There may be a glimmer of light at the end of this tunnel.
Internet engineers have long recognized that the domain name
system has been put to use for purposes far different than
originally intended. When the domain name system was
invented, it was easy to say that domain names and
trademarks were totally separate concepts. Since then, there
has been tremendous growth of web sites with new trademarks,
such as Amazon and Yahoo, as well as the obvious connection
of existing trademarks such as IBM and AT&T to .com, .net
and .org. This has led millions of users to believe
that they have a right to type in any name or trademark they
can think of between www and .com in order to arrive at a
particular web site. The fact that they often don't does not
deter them. Trademarks and domain names may still be
separate, but there is a lot of litigation over the
conflicts that have arisen.

But what if there was a system specifically designed to
handle common names which led the user to the desired web-
site? The IETF is working on just such a system, the Common
Name Resolution Protocol (CNRP). Several Internet drafts
have been distributed, and work is proceeding. In the words
of one draft, "The goal of CNRP is to create a lightweight
search protocol with a simple query interface…."

There are already commercial services such as RealNames and
NetWords that offer a limited scope of common name
resolution. The intent of the current IETF work is to
produce a standard protocol that can be widely applied. Its
applications should include business directories, white
pages, e-commerce directories, yellow page services and many
other similar resources.

We can all hope that this project moves forward swiftly, so
that domain names can go back to their original functions,
and trademark lawyers can concentrate again on trademark

Howard Flack        http://www.unige.ch/crystal/ahdf/Howard.Flack.html
Laboratoire de Cristallographie               Phone: 41 (22) 702 62 49
24 quai Ernest-Ansermet             mailto:Howard.Flack@cryst.unige.ch
CH-1211 Geneva 4, Switzerland                   Fax: 41 (22) 702 61 08

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