RealTime IT News

AAA for .US

Three days after opening up the .us country code top-level domain (ccTLD) extension to trademark owners, managers of the American Internet extension have signed on a "local" company to mediate any domain name dispute.

NeuStar, owners of NeuLevel (which is, in turn, registry of the .biz TLD), penned a deal with the American Arbitration Association (AAA) to handle any domain-bidding wars between trademark owners and common folk who attempt to register domain names under the .us ccTLD.

The domain was opened up to trademark owners Monday for NeuStar's Sunrise period, 51 days before the public can reserve their own .us domain names from accredited registrars. The Sunrise window remains open until April 9.

The arbitration agreement stems from a clause in the Department of Commerce's agreement with the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) at its inception. Called the United States Dispute Resolution Procedure (usDRP), the supplement insured an American company was the mediation firm handling all American domain disputes.

Normally, neutral arbitrators from the Uniform Domain-name Dispute-Resolution policy (UDRP) handle TLD domain name disputes -- groups like the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), National Arbitration Forum (NAF) and CPR Institute for Dispute Resolution (CPR).

ICANN established the policy body to give trademark owners a legal opportunity to cancel, suspend or otherwise put a halt to "cybersquatters" who would buy up hundreds of domain extensions and hold them up for ransom to the company or highest bidder.

WIPO and others mediation outfits are used extensively to rule whether a person is inappropriately using a trademarked word in their domain name (like pepsi.com or britannica.org) or not, a process many see as heavily biased towards big business.

This is the AAA's first foray into the Internet world, and will operate under its fledgling e-commerce division. Mediators at the company normally handle labor law, commercial and insurance disputes.

Debbie Miller-Moore, AAA vice president of e-commerce services, said the company is more than ready for any .us disputes, as they have trained a panel of 40 trademark experts in domain name resolution.

"That's what is different than the panelists I've seen in other organizations," Miller-Moore said. "They're not our labor arbitrators or our construction arbitrators filling in a new panel, they're a specialized subset of our technology panel that has been trained specifically in trademark law."

The firm recently acknowledged consumer concerns over the price tag involved in the dispute process; given most .us domain name arbitration requests will involve individuals, it is a timely concession, and one in line with industry standards.

A ruling by the Supreme Court last month prompted AAA to lower the price caps on arbitration costs for individuals at $125 for consumer cases involving less than $10,000. The firm has also expanded its Web site with information on consumer arbitration and their rights.

Jim Casey, NeuStar director of policy and business development, said AAA's commitment to fairness is one of the reasons it was selected to mediate .us domain disputes.

"We are pleased to have the AAA, a renowned leader in conflict management services, working with NeuStar on trademark disputes as we bring an enhanced .us to market," he said. "This is one of the steps we're taking to ensure that the administration of .US serves the public interest."