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Latest 'Net gold may rest in Asia's domain

  • Story Highlights
  • Online auctions for new .Asia domains to begin in December
  • Similar domain openings planned in Africa, Latin America
  • New domains can create trademark issues for companies
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By Kevin Voigt
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HONG KONG, China (CNN) -- A land rush is happening in Hong Kong, but it doesn't involve the high-rise properties for which the city is famous. Instead, it's the epicenter of a brand new patch of cyber real estate soon to go on the global market.

Starting in December, online auctions will begin for companies vying to register on the new .Asia top-level domain registry. Like .com, .info and .biz before it, this new Asia-wide category of Web address opens opportunities for cyber squatters to pan for Internet gold -- or dig up fresh disputes over claims on this potentially valuable new piece of cyberspace.

"Every time a new domain comes into being a lot of tension is created," said Edmon Chung, CEO of the Hong Kong-based DotAsia Organization, which is overseeing the rollout of the new domain. "Speculators are eager to jump on it."

The .Asia land grab was authorized by the Internet Corporation of Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), an industry group that regulates domain names worldwide, and follows the introduction of the .eu domain for European Union members last year, which attracted 2.5 million registered names.

The .Asia rollout shows in many ways how the Wild West days are dwindling for cyber-squatters -- known as "domainers" -- to mine high-value names. The .Asia listing and auction for names is happening in four stages, starting last month and ending in January, to give governments, corporations and other organizations with trademarked names first dibs on registration.

DotAsia is using four stages to avoid problems of the two-staged, "first come, first serve" rollout of .Eu. "There was a mad rush ... sometimes (the domain winner) wasn't who had the best right to use the name, but the one who had the best technology to grab the name in the first millisecond of registration," Chung says. "We're trying to introduce a calm process to brand owners."

If two or more applicants apply with the same trademarked name, then the domain name goes to the highest bidder at auction, Chung adds.

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Still, there are opportunities for domainers to stake possibly lucrative claims. "For people who want to buy (domain names) low and sell high, there are still many generic names that you are unable to trademark" like "" or "," says Janna Lam, CEO of IP Mirror, a Singapore-based company that is one of 110 approved registrars for the .Asia domain.

If the Asia domain race mimics the .Eu land rush, "" is likely to be one of the most popular names in the cyber auction.

"In business, you have the concept of `location, location, location'" as being the central key to success, Chung says. "Domain names play that role on the Internet."

Call it the "Google-factor": with "Asia" in the domain name, "keyword searches will get higher relevance, whether its `backpacking' and `Asia,' or `widgets' and `Asia'--really anything," he says.

The domain name game is looking to get even more interesting soon. Until now, the suffix of Web addresses were only written in English, but ICANN is testing non-English domains in 11 languages: Japanese, Korean, simplified and traditional Chinese, Hindi, Tamil, Greek, Arabic, Persian, Yiddish and Russian.

While each new domain opens opportunities, it also spells headaches for companies who must remain vigilant to protect their trademark names on the Web.

"To brand owners it can be a bit of a nuisance as they have to keep registering to protect their brand name," say Lam of IP Mirror. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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