202102.25

Internationalized domain names: definition, challenges, and status

A linguistic revolution is underway, which spares no written language. While the number of spoken languages is estimated at around 7,000, linguists identify around 200 written languages. For a few of them, the Internet offers an unprecedented stimulus, while most languages entered into a form of resistance. In this context, the domain name system serves as an indicator of the progress in developing multilingualism in the digital world. What is an internationalized or multilingual domain name? What are the issues and the foundations? These are the questions to which we will begin to answer in this article.

1. Definition

Initially, the Internet only knew “A-Z”, “0-9” and the hyphen “-“. This group of characters is called the “American Standard Code for Information Interchange” (ASCII). A domain name with at least one non-ASCII character is an internationalized domain name (IDN) (IETF, RFC 5890, para. 2.3.2.3). As early as the mid-1990s, at the dawn of the globalization of the Internet, Domain Name System (DNS) engineers began to develop the protocols necessary for the internationalization of domain names. The process is complicated since it relies, in part, on the transliteration of a sequence of non-ASCII characters into a sequence of ASCII characters, preceded by the prefix “xn--” (called “ACE prefix”). After a few attempts, a protocol developed by the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) was approved by the Internet Engineering Steering Group (IESG) (RFC 5890, ISSN 2070-1721). Firstly, internationalized domain names were made available, and secondly, top-level domains. Today, the technique allows domain names to be registered in the form idn.idn.

2. Issues

The “processes of globalization, which have been facilitated by the rapid development of information and communication technologies, afford unprecedented conditions for enhanced interaction between cultures, they also represent a challenge for cultural diversity, namely in view of risks of imbalances between rich and poor countries” (Preamble of the UNESCO Convention of 20 October 2005 on the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions: unesco.org). Signed by more than 140 states, this convention entered into force on 18 March 2007 (NB: the United States has not signed it). The UNESCO Universal Declaration of 2 November 2001 on Cultural Diversity (unesco.org) already included declarations and objectives in this direction. Finally, the works resulting from the World Summit for the Information Society systematically reinforce the urgent need to promote cultural diversity to heal the fracture that had set in during the first decade of the Internet. Since domain names are digital addresses, their internationalization was inevitable. In this context, IDNs can help preserve and promote diverse knowledge, sometimes available in the only language understandable by the learner. IDNs can therefore play a central role. “In the information society, language, in addition to being a medium of communication, plays a socio-economic role similar to that of money in industrial society. While money is used to acquire material goods, language is used to obtain knowledge and immaterial goods” (A. El Zaïm, Avant-propos in D. Osborn, Les langues africaines à l’ère du numérique. Défis et opportunités de l’informatisation des langues autochtones, Presses de l’université de Laval, 2011, p. 2).

The stakes are such that UNESCO actively engages for a multilingual and inclusive Internet, against the idea of ​​a linguistic hegemony which, by definition, would be exclusive. In this regard, UNESCO has entered into partnerships with ICANN and Eurid (the European top-level domain registry: eurid.eu). The first aims to support the introduction of IDNs “to support the introduction of top level Internationalized Domain Names (“IDNs”) in order to offer new opportunities and benefits for the Internet users around the world by allowing them to establish and use domains in their native languages and scripts” ( article 1) and “collaborate to explore the potential to assist developing countries in enhancing capacities to actively participate in building an inclusive and multilingual Internet” (ibid.) (ICANN-UNESCO Memorandum of Understanding, 10 December 2009). On this occasion, the President of ICANN recalled that “Over half the internet users around the world don’t use a Latin-based script as their native language. IDNs are about making the Internet more global and accessible for everyone” (unesco.org, 10 December 2012). UNESCO and ICANN’s partnership was strengthened the following year by a joint letter of intent (Letter of Intent between UNESCO and ICANN, 16 September 2010). The second partnership, with Eurid, takes the form of the publication of a joint annual report to analyze the development of IDNs (idnworldreport.eu).

However, the issues are not only cultural and linguistic. They also raise problems of an economic and societal nature that impact access to knowledge and, therefore, to development, in such a way and to such an extent that we are getting closer to stakes of power and sovereignty.

3. Status

The evolution of internationalized ccTLDs is carried out mainly through ICANN’s fast-track procedure on 16 November 2009 (icann.org). The following table shows the IDN ccTLDs created as part of this procedure. Currently, all of these IDNs have passed the delegation phase, except xn – mgb2ddes اليمن (for Yemen) and xn – 4dbrk0ce ישראל (for Israel), whose delegation phase is underway.


ISO 3166-1 ReferenceCountry/TerritoryIDN
DZAlgeriaxn--lgbbat1ad8j = الجزائر (Arabic / Arabic)
AMArmeniaxn--y9a3aq = հայ (Armenian / Armenian)
BHBahrainxn--mgbcpq6gpa1a = البحرين (Arabic / Arabic)
BDBangladeshxn--54b7fta0cc = বাংলা (Bangla / Bangla)
BYBelarusxn--90ais = бел (Belarusian, Russian / Cyrillic)
BGBulgariaxn--90ae = бг (Bulgarian / Cyrillic)
CNChinaxn--fiqs8S = 中国 (Chinese / Simplified Chinese)
CNChinaxn--fiqz9S = 中國 (Chinese / Traditional Chinese)
EGEgyptxn--wgbh1c = مصر (Arabic / Arabic)
EUEuropean Unionxn--e1a4c = ею (Bulgarian / Cyrillic)
EUEuropean Unionxn--qxa6a = ευ (Greek / Greek)
GEGeorgiaxn--node = გე (Georgian / Georgian (Mkhedruli))
GRGreecexn--qxam = ελ (Greek / Greek)
HKHong Kongxn--j6w193g = 香港 (Chinese / Simplified Chinese)
ILIsraelxn--4dbrk0ce = ישראל (Hebrew / Hebrew)
INIndiaxn--h2brj9c = भारत (Hindi / Devanagari)
INIndiaxn--mgbbh1a71e = بھارت (Urdu / Arabic)
INIndiaxn--fpcrj9c3d = భారత్ (Telugu / Telugu)
INIndiaxn--gecrj9c = ભારત (Gujarati / Gujarati)
INIndiaxn--s9brj9c = ਭਾਰਤ (Punjabi / Gurmukhi)
INIndiaxn--45brj9c = ভারত (Bengali / Bengali)
INIndiaxn--xkc2dl3a5ee0h = இந்தியா (Tamil / Tamil)
INIndiaxn--2scrj9c = ಭಾರತ (Kannada / Kannada)
INIndiaxn--rvc1e0am3e = ഭാരതം (Malayalam / Malayalam)
INIndiaxn--45br5cyl = ভাৰত (Assamese / Bengali)
INIndiaxn--3hcrj9c = ଭାରତ (Oriya / Oriya)
INIndiaxn--mgbbh1a = بارت (Kashmiri / Arabic)
INIndiaxn--h2breg3eve = भारतम् (Sanskrit / Devanagari)
INIndiaxn--h2brj9c8c = भारोत (Santali / Devanagari)
INIndiaxn--mgbgu82a = ڀارت (Sindhi / Arabic)
IRIranxn--mgba3a4f16a = ایران (Persian / Arabic)
IQIraqxn--mgbtx2b = عراق (Arabic / Arabic)
JOJordanxn--mgbayh7gpa = الاردن (Al-Ordon)
KZKazakhstanxn--80ao21a = қаз (Kazakh / Cyrillic)
KRKoreaxn--3e0b707e = 한국 (Korean / Hangul)
LALaosxn--q7ce6a = ລາວ (Lao / Lao)
MOMacauxn--mix891f = 澳門 (Chinese / Traditional Chinese)
MKNorth Macedoniaxn--d1alf = мкд (Macedonian / Cyrillic)
MYMalaysiaxn--mgbx4cd0ab = ‎مليسيا. (Malay / Arabic)
MRMauritaniaxn--mgbah1a3hjkrd = موريتانيا (Arabic / Arabic)
MNMongoliaxn--l1acc = мон (Mongolian / Cyrillic)
MAMoroccoxn--mgbc0a9azcg = المغرب (Arabic / Arabic)
OMOmanxn--mgb9awbf = عمان (Arabic / Arabic)
PKPakistanxn--mgbai9azgqp6j = ‎‎پاکستان (Urdu / Arabic)
PSPalestinexn--ygbi2ammx = فلسطين (Arabic / Arabic)
QAQatarxn--wgbl6a = قطر (Qatar)
RURussiaxn--p1ai = рф (Russian / Cyrillic)
SASaudi Arabiaxn--mgberp4a5d4ar = السعودية (Arabic / Arabic)
RSSerbiaxn--90a3ac = срб (Serbian / Cyrillic)
SGSingaporexn--yfro4i67o = 新加坡 (Chinese / Han)
SGSingaporexn--clchc0ea0b2g2a9gcd = சிங்கப்பூர் (Tamil / Tamil)
LKSri Lankaxn--fzc2c9e2c = ලංකා (Sinhalese / Sinhala)
LKSri Lankaxn--xkc2al3hye2a = இலங்கை (Tanil / Tamil)
SDSudanxn--mgbpl2fh = سودان (Arabic / Arabic)
SYSyriaxn--ogbpf8fl = سورية (Arabic / Arabic)
TWTaiwanxn--kpry57d = 台灣 (Chinese / Simplified Chinese)
TWTaiwanxn--kprw13d = 台湾 (Chinese / Traditional Chinese)
THThailandxn--o3cw4h = ไทย (Thai / Thai)
TNTunisiaxn--pgbs0dh = تونس (Arabic / Arabic)
UAUkrainexn--j1amh = укр (Ukrainian / Cyrillic)
AEUnited Arab Emiratsxn--mgbaam7a8h = امارات (Arabic / Arabic)
YEYemenxn--mgb2ddes = اليمن (Arabic / Arabic)

Source : icann.org


An internationalized TLD is not necessarily the translation or transliteration of an ASCII ccTLD. Indeed, an internationalized TLD can also be a generic TLD, identical to a generic word. In 2012, when ICANN called for new gTLDs, it received over 100 requests for internationalized generic extensions. For example, .com exists in several other scripts such as .คอม (Thai), .कॉम (Hindi), .كوم (Arabic), and .ком (Russian).

An internationalized TLD can also reflect a brandTLD. As the English language dominates the business world, there are relatively few internationalized brandTLDs. However, some markets are large and/or strategic enough to persuade companies to acquire an internationalized brandTLD. In doing so, companies send their marketing message in the language of the target consumer. This commercial strategy is based on the raison d’être of brands: the ability to identify the origin of products. This is, for example, the case of the following TLDs:. 大众 汽车 (.Volkswagen, in Chinese),. 飞利浦 (Philips, in Chinese),. 谷 歌 (.Google, in Chinese),. 诺基亚 (Nokia, in Chinese ) and. 亚马逊 /. ア マ ゾ ン (.Amazon, respectively in Chinese and Japanese). Some companies, whose historical headquarters are in a country where the writing system is different from the Latin system, have acquired internationalized brandTLDs. This is particularly the case of the Chinese companies such as Weibo (. 微 博, in Chinese), PCCW (. 電訊 盈科, in Chinese) and CITIC Group (. 中信, in Chinese), Hong Kong companies such as Shangri-la Hotels and Resorts (.香格里拉, in Chinese) and Kerry Logistics (. 嘉 里), the Singaporean company Temasek (. 淡 马 锡, in Chinese), the Saudi company Aramco (.ارامكو) or the Korean company Samsung (. 삼성, in Korean ).

Finally, whether it is a gTLD or a ccTLD, each registry decides which scripts and languages will be made available to the public. For example, among the gTLDs, .com is available in several languages, including Chinese, Arabic, French, Spanish, Japanese, and Korean (iana.org, Repository of IDN Practices). Likewise, it is possible to register .pizza, .career, .coffee, .school or .science domain names in several languages.

As for brandTLDs, each company decides according to its commercial policy. Global companies have a vested interest in making domain names available to their regional teams in an intelligible language to the target consumer. For example, .accenture, .bing, .shell, .swatch, .tiffany and .windows brandTLDs can be registered in many languages (iana.org, Repository of IDN Practices).

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