May 072008
 

Saw an interesting news item that broke Monday courtesy of DomainNameNews and SlashDot that hasn’t been broadly covered yet. Apparently VeriSign has been awarded a patent for the resolution of mis-typed domain names. This was at the heart of the controversy back in 2003 around their SiteFinder Service. Amidst a storm of criticism ICANN insisted VeriSign shut down the service, and the company eventually agreed.

Patent: http://www.domainnamenews.com/registries/verisign-receives-sitefinder-patent/1559

SiteFinder: http://www.itworld.com/Man/2681/031006sitefinder/

Personally I believe if VeriSign had been less secretive about its plans and had briefed important Internet constituencies beforehand about this change to how the Internet operated, there would have been less criticism. VeriSign and ICANN eventually settled their differences re SiteFinder, and as part of the re-awarding of the .com franchise VeriSign promised never to bring a SiteFinder-like service back. But, this patent is interesting for what it means in the present, not the past.

Many companies currently resolve incorrect domain names to pages that contain advertising. They don’t do it the way VeriSign did it, by changing the way the root server operates for .com addresses. But the result is the same, and would seem to be covered by the patent. Companies like Earthlink, Verizon and OpenDNS bring their customers to advertising pages every time they “fat-finger” a domain name. Just think about how  often we all do this, and you can imagine the amount of Internet traffic potentially involved. Some of these companies weren’t re-directing this traffic safely — there were security problems with the ad partner Earthlink chose to deal with:

http://www.portfolio.com/news-markets/top-5/2008/04/21/Hackers-Can-Exploit-Error-Page-Ads

So, the government seems to have handed VeriSign a new revenue stream. Letters may be going out shortly demanding a licensing fee — or maybe they’ve already been sent.

UPDATE — AP wrote story: http://biz.yahoo.com/ap/080514/techbit_internet_typos.html?.v=2

  2 Responses to “Five Years Later, a SiteFinder Patent?”

  1. Very interesting development, Chris. We’ll see how VeriSign tries to monetize this or possibly pursue a “patent troll” legal strategy.

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