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Cybersquatting and Geopolitics Heats Up

Cybersquatting is so 2000, or so we thought. The UDRP at WIPO, a process that was hashed out in ICANN’s early days (see Mueller’s Ruling the Root), has been chugging along for several years now, methodically determining if complainants IP rights have been violated and reassigning “ownership” of domain names. Typically, the cases are fairly boring. But some recent developments in the world of 800 lb search gorillas, Google and Baidu, suggests that the regime could be faced with substantial pressure in the near future.

Google has lately been fighting to consolidate its Gmail trademark globally, but it faces an obstacle in the world’s second largest Web market, China. Gmail.cn is run by Beijing-based ISM Technologies, the largest wholesale Internet domain registrar accredited with Chinese government-backed Internet body CNNIC and it is refusing to sell its Internet address to the U.S. giant. Google is facing a similar situation, albeit probably a far less powerful adversary, in Poland where an alleged group of poets have been using the gmail.pl domain. It faces similar circumstances and has filed legal challenges in other EU countries. But the importance of the China case to Google is obvious, as Reuters notes, it is fighting to narrow the gap between its market share in Chinese market leader Baidu.com.

Now, Google’s lawyers shouldn’t have all the fun. Baidu could be facing their own geopolitical struggle as their popular search service grows in influence globally and economically. It turns out, Baidu.eu has been registered by an entrepreneur in the Netherlands. Some bloggers are interpreting the situation using the UDRP lense and indicating the entrepreneur is simply squatting to reap financial gain.

So, what’s worth following here is how a tussle between Chinese government backed CNNIC and US government backed ICANN over competing domain name property regimes will play out. Should be fun to watch.

By Brenden Kuerbis, Internet Governance Researcher & Policy Analyst at Georgia Tech

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