Internet changes likely to impact international Web businesses

A recent article in New Scientist reports on the imminent release of Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) from U.S. national control. ICANN is responsible for maintaining the various technical standards that make the Internet possible on a low level.

Under an Affirmation agreement with the U.S. department of commerce ICANN will not be coordinated by any specific government, allowing representatives from many countries to take part. The likely offshoot is that Internet standards will become more inclusive of Internet users outside America. For instance, the article reports that we might reasonably expect domain names to be available in Chinese and Arabic characters in little more than a year. They also report that current browsers cannot access domain names written in these scripts, which is quite right, but a reasonably small change I cannot see any major browser manufacturer delaying in releasing to their customers.

Our current domain name system has evolved organically and seen domain names become of increasing importance to businesses. The domain name space is crowded now to the point where a new company is usually named after making sure the relevant domain name is available.

A Chinese script (or any other script) domain name system would be a blank canvas and undoubtedly trademarks and simple words will be bought en masse for resale back to the trademark owners. Domain names are often likened to car license plates or telephone numbers: It is quite possible (depending on the local law) to own a company trademark in a domain name without any legal responsibility to give it back to that company. Additionally you might have trouble initiating such litigation unless you are at a particularly large organisation.

For those interested in overseas trade this is a space worth watching to make sure you know when new domain names are available and act fast to secure your trademarks.