VeriSign faces setback in ICANN suit

A US federal judge has dealt a preliminary setback to VeriSign in its lawsuit against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the non-profit corporation responsible for managing the Internet's Domain Name System (DNS).

In a Tuesday ruling, U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz dismissed VeriSign's claim that ICANN had violated U.S. antitrust law by stifling the introduction of new VeriSign services, but the judge gave the Internet domain name registrar until June 7 to try again to make its antitrust argument.

"The court did not find that they had provided sufficient allegation against ICANN under that act at this point," said John Jeffrey, ICANN's general counsel, referring to the Sherman Act covering federal antitrust law. "We're very pleased with the court's ruling because it was the best possible result for ICANN."

VeriSign filed the suit against ICANN last February in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California. It seeks unspecified damages, alleging that ICANN has strayed from its 1998 charter agreement to be a technical coordination body and has hampered the introduction of VeriSign services such as internationalized domain names and a wait-list service for expired domain names.

VeriSign also blamed ICANN for putting pressure on the Mountain View, California, company last year to end its controversial Site Finder service, which redirected mistyped Web addresses to a VeriSign Web page.

The U.S. Department of Commerce gave ICANN oversight of the DNS system, which translates alphabetical domain names into numerical Internet Protocol addresses, in a 1998 memorandum of understanding.

This agreement gave ICANN authority only as a "technical coordination body," and since then it has improperly attempted to become the "de facto regulator of the domain name system," VeriSign said in a February statement.

Tuesday's ruling covered only the first of seven claims made by VeriSign, according to VeriSign spokesman Brian O'Shaughnessy. The other six claims allege breach of contract, covering a 1998 agreement between VeriSign, ICANN and the U.S. Department of Commerce, which was renewed in 2000, he said. That agreement made VeriSign the registrar of the .com domain, O'Shaughnessy said.

"VeriSign is seeking more clarity around what are and what are not services that we can provide (under this contract)," O'Shaughnessy said.

He downplayed the significance of Tuesday's court ruling. "The court was simply asking us for more detail to prove our claim" that VeriSign broke antitrust laws, he said.

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