Network Solutions and Compaq invest in RealNames

Network Solutions (NSI) is the lead investor of a $US13 million injection into a company that hopes to make it easier to find home pages on the World Wide Web. NSI and Compaq Computer will invest in Centraal, which runs the RealNames service that allows Web surfers to enter logical names associated with a Website and avoid guessing a company's URL. The service is based on registered brand and trademark names and is run by a Centraal server. But some observers doubt the sustainability of a trademark-based service in a global setting.

Network Solutions (NSI) is the lead investor of a $US13 million injection into a company that hopes to make it easier to find home pages on the World Wide Web.

NSI, Compaq Computer and Amerindo Investment Partners, said yesterday that they will invest approximately $13 million in Centraal, which runs the RealNames service and is based in Palo Alto, California.

Unveiled in March of this year, RealNames enables Web surfers to enter logical names associated with a Web site and avoid guessing a company's URL. The service is based on registered brand and trademark names and is run by a Centraal server. For customers, Centraal charges a fee to register their home pages with RealNames, users, meanwhile, must download a browser plug-in to use the service.

The new investment will be used to add more features to the service and expand its international presence, the companies said.

The announcement comes as Herndon, Virginia-based NSI is rapidly trying to fortify its position as the lead provider of domain names, the mnemonic tags such as ibm.com applied to underlying numerical Internet addresses.

NSI, which operates under an agreement with the US government has been at the center of a battle over how to revamp the Domain Name System (DNS). Since NSI controls the .net, .org and, in particular, the popular .com top-level domain, many members in the Internet community argue the company has a monopoly on a valuable resource.

The US government last month agreed to begin transferring management of the DNS to a Los Angeles, California-based not-for-profit company. NSI, meanwhile, will likely become one of several companies offering top-level domains when its agreement with the US government expires in September 2000.

NSI provided few details on what it will gain from its equity investment in Centraal or how it will use the RealNames service.

A statement issued by the companies said NSI sees RealNames as a "complementary service to our registration services business." NSI also said "the value in RealNames is that it drives traffic and navigating to specific Web pages."

One Internet insider had mixed reactions to the NSI-Centraal tie-up, pointing out that the legal framework underpinning trademarks is not international.

"While I applaud the intent, I am somewhat skeptical of the scalability of the RealName concept -- trademarks are not necessarily unique, particularly on a global scale," said David Conrad, former head of one of the regional registries that allocates Internet address space.

"Trademarks are categorised in terms of geography and function, that is Acme can be a trademark simultaneously in Baltimore and in Seattle," Conrad said. "As RealNames become more widely used, there will be more and more trademark conflicts."

NSI is at http://www.networksolutions.com/. Centraal, based in Palo Alto, California, can be reached at http://www.realnames.com/.

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