November 3, 2009, 12:00 AM

Retailers face new decisions after ICANN OKs non-Latin domain names

While ICANN’s announcement last week that it plans to allow web addresses to be written in non-Latin characters could open up new markets, it also forces Internet retailers to act quickly to secure additional domain names, says MarkMonitor`s Fred Felman.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers’ announcement last week that it plans to allow web addresses to be written in non-Latin characters-such as in Chinese or Arabic characters-could open up a slew of new markets for internet retailers. But it also forces them to act quickly to secure additional domain names, says Fred Felman, chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor, a provider of online brand protection technology and services.

While Felman expects most countries that respect international copyright codes to give companies that already own registrations in Latin characters the first right of refusal for those domain names in the country’s non-Latin characters, many companies will need to consider what their brand names looks like in translation or transliteration. “Korea has a lot of Internet users, but many are not English speakers,” says Felman. “So Wal-Mart needs to think about what Wal-Mart looks like written in Hangul.” Hangul is the Korean alphabet.

Companies seeking to expand globally, need to make sure their trademarks, particularly their most valuable logos and insignias, are protected in any space they may be interested in pursuing in the future, says Jeff Whittle, an intellectual property attorney at the law firm of Bracewell & Giuliani. Whittle recommends companies focus on protecting their marks in geographical regions, using systems such as the Madrid system for the international registration of marks, that provide a mechanism to obtain trademark protection in many countries, rather than having to seek protection separately in each individual country or jurisdiction. “It might be pricey, but it’s well worthwhile,” he says.

For significant international companies, he says its essential to get coverage in at least one country in Europe, Asia, Africa, as well as North and South America. “They may not have spread to Africa yet, but if they can reasonably see themselves moving into places with some economic strength, like South Africa, then it’s worthwhile to get cover.”

The outlay for such initiatives may be costly, since moving into a new market requires far more than just buying a domain name, says Ilan Levine, executive vice president for global product management at Venda Inc., an e-commerce technology vendor. “Retailers need to personalize, personalize, personalize,” he says. “If they’re perceived as not being local it hurts. They need to get the content to be as localized as they can.” However, that need is not new, he says. “The companies needed to be doing these things anyway; this just makes the URL cleaner. They should have been working on the personalization and content for years. From a vendor perspective, we’ve been dealing with multiple currencies and languages for some time. This just brings to the forefront what it really means to be global.”

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