OPERATORS of new `dot-info' Internet suffix initiate challenges for good names

Wednesday, August 15th 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

NEW YORK (AP) _ Responding to widespread criticisms in online message boards, the company that runs the new ''.info'' Internet suffix vowed to challenge suspicious claims to some of the best names.

The dispute stems from a mechanism set up by Afilias Ltd. to let businesses claim their trademarks before registration is opened to the general public. But many common dictionary words were among those claimed as company trademarks _ some with shaky claims to validity.

Internet users flooded forums devoted to domain names with complaints that individuals and organizations were being shut out from the first major Internet address expansion since the 1980s.

Though they had the right to challenge any trademark registration, they received no guarantees they would later get the name _ even if they prevailed. And they had to place a $295 deposit to start the process; only $220 would be refunded if they win.

Roland LaPlante, the chief marketing officer of Afilias, acknowledged that the process was flawed.

``It was unlikely many people would step forward to address those issues,'' he said Tuesday. ``It wasn't fair that some people could come in early in the process and nail those (names) down without some challenge.''

LaPlante said Afilias expects to file hundreds of challenges with arbiters at the World Intellectual Property Organization. The company would also have to pay WIPO fees, though it hopes to negotiate a bulk discount.

More than 25,000 names have already been claimed since July 25, the first day trademark holders were able to register. General registration opens Sept. 12, and the names become active Sept. 19.

Later this fall, ''.biz'' and ''.name'' suffixes will be operational. Also pending are ''.pro,'' ''.aero,'' ''.museum'' and ''.coop.''

All seven were approved last fall by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers to help relieve overcrowding in names ending in ''.com.''

Because of excessive demand, ''.com'' names have fetched as much as $7.5 million in the resale market. Some entrepreneurs are hoping that ''.info'' names will carry similar value.

Among the names already taken are books.info, consumers.info and business.info. The registrant of business.info, identified as a company specializing in domain names for high-speed Internet, even entered in the contact name field, ``This domain is for sale.''

``It was apparent ... that some of the registrations that came in were people trying to circumvent the process and get ahead of the general public,'' LaPlante said.