This story was written by Keith Dawson for the Industry Standard's Posts feature. It is archived here for informational purposes only because The Standard's site is no more. This material is Copyright 1999-2001 by Standard Media.

INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY

Save URLy and Often

In recent years, corporations have vehemently defended their trademarks in cyberspace, resulting in a flood of seizures of domain names held by cyber squatters, respectable businesses and 12-year-old children. If Finnish cell-phone giant Nokia has its way, such URL trademark protection could be extended further.

In its application to have .mobile join .com, .net and other top-level domains, Nokia says it would require .mobile registrants to check for trademark conflicts, down to the third level of domain names. If such a rule were applied to existing domains, the "rtfm" in rtfm.mit.edu or the "maps" in maps.yahoo.com would need to be vetted. Such names are most often used to identify subordinate services in a company, or a particular machine in a network.

Yahoo is no doubt safe with the maps.yahoo.com; "maps" is a generic term. But do a search on InterNIC for the word "microsoft." Among the results are names such as "MICROSOFT.COM.IS.NOTHING.BUT.A.MONSTER.ORG."

Using a simple trick, the owners of the monster.org domain have made their anti-Microsoft opinions visible worldwide. (Try it as well with AOL, Apple or other easy targets.) "If [Microsoft] finds out that this disparaging use of their trademark is out there, they're likely to take some action," says intellectual-property attorney Gary W. Smith of Boston-based Burns & Levinson. Microsoft representatives were not available to comment.

Sublevel-domain shenanigans are an online tradition. One birthplace of the Net, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has a soft spot for high-tech mischief and doesn't censor names on certain parts of its network unless someone complains or a name confuses search engines, says MIT network manager Jeffrey Schiller. For example, "yahoo.mit.edu" is off limits.

Others are more conservative. "We've told students, 'You have 24 hours to change that [offensive] name,' and they have complied," says John Lerchey, network security coordinator at Carnegie Mellon University. Also, CMU policy says that its computing resources may not violate trademarks. "Names would fall under that," adds Lerchey, noting trademark holders have to bring suspected abuses to the university's attention. - Keith Dawson