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ICANN wins a round in antitrust dispute

Federal judge gives VeriSign until June 7 to bolster its claims and refile its antitrust lawsuit against the Internet oversight body.
/ Source: The Associated Press

The company that controls the directories for guiding Internet users worldwide failed to support its antitrust claims against a key oversight body, a federal judge ruled Tuesday.

U.S. District Judge A. Howard Matz gave VeriSign Inc. until June 7 to bolster and refile its antitrust lawsuit against the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, the organization designed in 1998 by the U.S. government to oversee Internet domain names.

VeriSign controls the computers that contain the master list of domain name suffixes, such as ".com" and ".fr." The company also runs directories for the two most popular suffixes, ".com" and ".net"; those directories tell computers where to find specific sites like ""

As a result, Internet computers intersect with VeriSign's more than 11 billion times daily to find out how to route e-mail and Web traffic.

VeriSign, based in Mountain View, Calif., claims decisions by ICANN stymied efforts to expand its business. The company sued ICANN in February, accusing it, among other things, of illegally restraining competition.

Ruling Tuesday on ICANN's motions to dismiss the case, Matz said VeriSign's attempt to substantiate the antitrust allegations against ICANN were "awfully vague."

"We will file an amended complaint with the specificity that the court requires," VeriSign attorney Ronald L. Johnston said after the 20-minute hearing.

ICANN attorneys said they were pleased but acknowledged the lawsuit is far from settled.

"This was the best possible result for us in this hearing," said John Jeffrey, ICANN's general counsel.

Matz ruled only on the antitrust claim. He put off a decision on five remaining claims, most alleging contract violations, because the court could lose its jurisdiction if VeriSign's amended antitrust claim is ultimately dismissed. In that case, the remaining claims would go to a state court.

The lawsuit grew in part out of last fall's dispute over Site Finder, which VeriSign introduced for guiding Internet users who mistype ".com" or ".net" addresses. Instead of an error message, Web surfers get suggestions on where they might have wanted to go. VeriSign gets money for directing traffic to some of those sites.

Because Site Finder made some spam filters and rival search services stop working properly, ICANN threatened legal action. Critics said VeriSign was trying to make millions from its management of what is essentially a public resource.

VeriSign agreed to suspend the service, but then sued ICANN over Site Finder and what the company considers unnecessary delays and conditions placed on other planned offerings, including domain names in foreign languages.