New .info Web addresses attract cybersquatters

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The Independent Online

The frontiers of cyberspace have been hijacked by fraudsters, according to the company responsible for registering thousands of websites ending with the new .info suffix.

The frontiers of cyberspace have been hijacked by fraudsters, according to the company responsible for registering thousands of websites ending with the new .info suffix.

Afilias, an American company that has been taking applications from companies wanting to retain their trademarks in cyberspace, has admitted that it is launching an investigation. It suspects that many of the early registrations it has received for trademarked .info websites come from applicants with no rights to the names at all.

The .info sites, with .biz sites, will start being visible on the Net on 19 September. They were intended to function alongside the hundreds of millions of .com sites and those of other internet suffixes that are used to help bring order to the internet. They are the first "global top-level domains" to join the internet for 17 years.

Disputes have also broken out between bona fide companies that have registered titles in .info. The giant DuPont company, for one, has registered science.info – leading to an angry query from Russ Smith, who runs the science.net website. He wrote a letter to Du Pont noting that it had said that the trademark number it had claimed on the word "science" was 0 and the date of filing was 3 January 200 – not 2000. "This information is invalid," he noted. Du Pont has not replied.

One of the problems facing the registrar's office, which keeps a record of companies or individuals owning a "domain" such as independent.co.uk or afilias.info, is that the purpose of the .info suffix is so broad as to be virtually meaningless. Whereas .com was intended originally for companies, ICANN, the international body that last year approved the .info and .biz domains, said: "It will be open for registration by anyone or any entity for any purpose."

The catch-all nature of the definition has meant that companies have registered all sorts of names, including cities, animals and dictionary words. "I have checked only a very small sample, but I would say very roughly 80 per cent or more of good generic .info domains are already queued up for registration," Mr Smith said.

Jonathan Strong, an online commerce lawyer for the law firm Eversheds, said there were "serious legal doubts" concerning between 10 and 50 per cent of the .info registrations. He said he would advise any companies that wanted a rapid resolution to go to court.

However, some well-known companies, including lastminute.com, have said they will not try to register their .info equivalent.

The early registrations – in what is known as the "sunrise" period – have come before the general public is allowed to apply for websites.

They were meant to enable companies that held trademarks to protect their intellectual property. Instead it seems to have prompted a land-grab – implying that people still believe that internet domains are valuable, despite the end of the internet boom.

A London company called World Information Services and apparently based in Lewisham, has staked out sports.info, business.info, money.info, wallstreet.info and finance.info. In at least one instance it cited a trademark that does not exist.

Roland LaPlante, the chief marketing officer for Afilias, said it was difficult to check applications against real trademarks because "there is no authoritative global source of standardised trademark data to allow us ... to do a check."

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