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May 1, 2014 Vol. 69 No. 9 Back to Bulletin Main Page

U.S. Department of Commerce Announces Intent to Transition Key Internet Domain Name Functions

In March 2014, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) of the U.S. Department of Commerce announced its intention to transition its stewardship of key Internet domain name functions—the IANA functions (see below)—to the global Internet community.

The announcement concerns the private-/public-sector management of fundamental Internet resources, such as domain names and Internet protocols. For brand owners, the proposed transition of the IANA functions is important because it concerns both the technical stability of the Internet and the accountability to the public for these functions. As a first step, NTIA asked ICANN to “convene global stakeholders to develop a proposal to transition the current role played by NTIA in the coordination of the Internet’s domain name system (DNS).”

The “IANA agreement” relates to the set of the Internet’s technical coordination functions known as the Internet Assigned Names and Numbers Authority (IANA), which provides technical coordination and management of the Internet’s DNS “root zone.” This includes, among other things, “assigning the operators of top-level domains, and maintaining their technical and administrative details.” More specifically, IANA “allocates and maintains unique codes and numbering systems that are used in the technical standards” (or “protocols”) that are essential for Internet-based communications.

NTIA stated the purpose of its announcement was to “support and enhance the multistakeholder model of Internet policymaking and governance.”

History of IANA

The Internet developed as a result of collaboration between governments, through research funded by the U.S. Department of Defense, computer scientists and research institutions (part of the University of California system). Before the global Internet was created, a private network funded by the Department of Defense, called the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network (ARPANET), was established following years of research and experiment in networking technology. A set of technical functions related to the coordination of that private network was labeled the “IANA functions.”

In June 1998, the United States government stated it was “prepared to recognize, by entering into agreement with, and to seek international support for, a new, not-for-profit corporation formed by private sector Internet stakeholders to administer policy for the Internet name and address system.” Later that year, NTIA entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with a nonprofit corporation named the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). In light of the formation of ICANN, near the end of December 1998, the University of Southern California entered into a transition agreement with ICANN, transferring its role in performing the IANA functions to ICANN, effective January 1, 1999.

Since the time of ICANN’s formation, the U.S. Department of Commerce has delegated the IANA contract on a periodic basis through a public competitive-bid process. ICANN has maintained the IANA functions contract through this process; the current contractual term concludes in September 2015, at which time the contract can be renewed for a limited number of terms.

The NTIA Announcement

On March 14, 2014, NTIA announced “its intent to transition key Internet domain name functions to the global multistakeholder community.” This historic announcement signifies NTIA’s willingness to relinquish its responsibility for the IANA functions upon the satisfaction of several objectives. NTIA’s role has been the subject of ongoing geopolitical deliberations concerning the future governance of the Internet.

NTIA called upon ICANN, which it felt was “uniquely positioned, as both the current IANA functions contractor and the global coordinator of the DNS,” to organize global stakeholders to develop an IANA transition proposal with broad community support. The proposal must address the following four principles:

1.    Support and enhance the multistakeholder model;
2.    Maintain the security, stability and resiliency of the Internet DNS;
3.    Meet the needs and expectations of the global customers and partners of the IANA services; and
4.    Maintain the openness of the Internet.

The announcement was followed by several congressional hearings and proposed legislation on the role of the U.S. Congress in authorizing the transition proposal that will be considered by NTIA for adoption.

For trademark owners, the proposed IANA transition is important because it relates to the ongoing security and stability of the Internet, ICANN’s accountability and transparency to the public, the globalization of ICANN and the IANA functions, and the role of both the public and the private sector in the governance of these resources.

Next Steps

ICANN started the IANA transition process at its public meeting in Singapore in March 2014. On April 8, ICANN announced a public consultation period on its website and is now seeking public input on the process for developing an IANA transition proposal for NTIA’s consideration. Community feedback is due by May 8, 2014. Trademark owners are encouraged to participate in the transition process through associations such as INTA and through direct input to ICANN. INTA will continue to represent the interests of trademark owners through its Internet Committee in the ongoing public deliberations over the evolution of the Internet DNS.

ICANN’s next public meeting will take in London on June 22–26, 2014. The IANA transition process will be a main item on ICANN’s agenda for the next several public meetings. The Intellectual Property Constituency (IPC) of ICANN will meet at INTA’s Annual Meeting in Hong Kong on Wednesday, May 14, from 10:30am to 12:30pm.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.

© 2014 International Trademark Association