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ICANN Moves to Swat VeriSign Suit

Lawyers for the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) have moved to dismiss antitrust charges leveled by VeriSign , internetnews.com has learned.

A 33-page motion, filed late Monday in U.S. District Court in the Central District of California, claims VeriSign's claims aren't valid because the company is misinterpreting its contract with the Internet governing body.

"These claims should all be dismissed and be addressed only when and if VeriSign's interpretation of the contract is authoritatively established to be correct," ICANN's filing states.

VeriSign, under contract with ICANN to oversee the management of the .com and .net top-level domains (TLD), filed suit Feb. 27, claiming ICANN overstepped its bounds by dictating policy rather than simply setting technical standards.

In particular, ICANN tabled two proposed programs near to VeriSign's heart: the Waiting List Service (WLS) and SiteFinder programs.

WLS makes VeriSign the central repository for anyone looking to reserve a domain name; SiteFinder redirects misspelled domain names to its own ad-centric error page. VeriSign said it was entirely appropriate for the company to launch the services, despite the objections of some in the Internet community.

The other claims filed by VeriSign include alleged blocks by ICANN on other services.

Tom Galvin, a VeriSign spokesman, said the motion doesn't change his company's intentions to proceed with the case.

"We're seeking clarity around what services we can offer and what's the process we can use and hope that through the legal system VeriSign and the industry will get some answers," he said. "Clearly, ICANN is much speedier about responding to lawsuits than they are about proving new services that benefit Internet users."

ICANN suspended SiteFinder and WLS, pending a review by committees to determine the technical ramifications of WLS and SiteFinder, prompting a VeriSign to vow to hold ICANN "fully accountable" for SiteFinder's suspension.

On March 8, ICANN, not wanting to be stuck between VeriSign and its Internet constituents, approved WLS but said the U.S. Commerce Department must sign off. A technical report on the SiteFinder service is still in the works, though it was expected in January.

Despite the WLS concession, VeriSign didn't drop its lawsuit, prompting ICANN's motion to dismiss. ICANN seems to find it particularly galling that VeriSign is suing them, even as registrars band together to sue them both.

"The notion that ICANN is scheming to injure VeriSign is particularly ironic in view of the fact that ICANN has been successfully defending lawsuits brought in this Court in order to protect VeriSign's ability to offer one of the services -- the so-called 'Wait Listing Service,' . . . that VeriSign now alleges ICANN is conspiring to prevent," the court document stated, referring to an action filed by a group of registrars in February.

ICANN takes umbrage at VeriSign's anticompetitive claims, saying none of its actions violate Section 1 of the Sherman Act (the official name of the U.S. antitrust law). For the charge to stick, ICANN lawyers claim,VeriSign would have to prove three things: an agreement or conspiracy by two or more people or entities; the people or entities intended harm or to restrain competition; and whether ICANN actually injured competition.

"VeriSign has not alleged any of the requisite elements of a Section 1 claim," the document asserts.

In related news, ICANN general counsel John Jeffrey, told internetnews.com a second motion will be filed Monday, to "strike provisions of VeriSign's complaint relating to 'free speech' provisions surrounding a special California law called anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation)."

SLAPP, according to LegalDefinitions.com, is a "merit-less lawsuit filed primarily to discourage a defendant's exercise of his constitutional First Amendment rights."