One of the most significant changes to the Internet in years is the roll out of domain names in other alphabets, known as "internationalized domain names" or IDNs. An IDN is any domain name that includes characters other than the letters of the basic Latin alphabet. For example, IDNs can include languages with accents, cedillas and ogoneks (e.g., French, Turkish, Kurdish, Polish, Navajo, etc.) as well as non-Latin based languages such as Chinese or Arabic. An IDN provides enhanced accessibility to the Internet for non-Latin speakers. Russia, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and United Arab Emirates are the first countries to have their top level domain IDNs approved by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). So far 21 countries representing 11 different languages have applied for country code top-level domains and that number is constantly growing. The Domain Name System (DNS) only recognizes ASCII characters a-z, 0-9, and -. The IDN process maps over 40,000 Unicode symbols onto ASCII representations. (Unicode is a computing industry standard for the consistent representation of characters expressed in most word writing systems.)

Implications for Businesses

IDNs have many implications for business. First, companies who have a global domain name portfolio need to consider which IDNs to register for brand protection in transliteration and translation. Now that the number of possible defense registrations has exploded, new strategies will need to be developed. Policing IDN's will provide additional challenges to existing watch protocols.

On the positive side, IDNs will allow companies to enhance marketing opportunities in the many parts of the world that use other alphabets. IDNs further open up the Internet to a number of emerging markets.

From a defensive standpoint, even companies without global business interests will need to be aware that IDNs present additional parameters for phishing and other email fraud as fraudsters create phantom email addresses that look like a legitimate IDN but contain imperceptible differences.

There are a number of IT considerations as well, as there are varying levels of compatibility with existing browsers, email servers, and other enterprise-wide computer systems.

Trademark Owners

Trademark owners may be able to take advantage of "sunrise" periods for registration in which owners of trademarks can register before the names are made available to the general public. For example, Saudi Arabia had a sunrise commence in late May 2010.