November 20, 2009, 12:00 AM

What’s the worth of web domains in languages like Chinese and Arabic?

Even retail web sites of major brands with broad international exposure may employ web addresses that many foreign consumers cannot read or recognize

Even retail web sites of major brands with broad international exposure may employ web addresses that many foreign consumers cannot read or recognize, because Internet addresses have only been available in Latin characters.

It will soon be possible to address that obstacle following last month’s announcement from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers that it plans to allow web addresses to be written in non-Latin characters-such as in Chinese or Arabic.

The move could open up new markets for U.S. retailers, but forces them to act quickly to secure the new domain names, says Fred Felman, chief marketing officer for MarkMonitor, a provider of online brand protection technology and services. Felman expects most countries that respect international copyrights will give companies that own registrations in Latin characters the first right of refusal for those domain names in the country’s non-Latin characters.

Retailers that choose to register non-Latin domains, however, must consider how their brand names will appear in those languages, Felman says. For instance, replicating the sound of a brand like Wal-Mart might require characters that have a meaning in a particular language that does not fit with the brand’s image.

“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.

While there may be hurdles, including cost, companies seeking to sell globally need to make sure their trademarks are protected in any markets 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 brands in geographical regions, using systems such as the Madrid system for the international registration of marks, which makes it possible to protect trademarks in many countries at once.

zak@verticalwebmedia.com

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