There appears to be a bandwagon in town for Chinese-language domain names. If you want an English-language domain name, it is so straightforward - just go to an appropriate registry and (subject to availability) pick up the name of your choice.

You can choose from an ever-expanding list of generic top-level domains (GTLDs) such as .com, .net, and .org or from a domain with a country code suffix, such as .com.hk, .net.hk and .org.hk.

However, restricting domain names to the English language is inconsistent with the Internet being a truly global medium. Accordingly, It comes as no surprise to see domain names being offered in languages which do not use Roman characters.

Registrations for Chinese-language domain names were first offered by I-DNS.net International through a Taiwanese ISP, TimeNet in December 1999.

Since then, the China Network Internet Centre (CNNIC) has started offering it's own service for registering Chinese-language domain names and, most recently, VeriSign Global Registry Services has joined the fray.

One problem with Chinese-language domain names is there are various options for obtaining a registration. First, do you want a registration in traditional or simplified characters? VeriSign treats such registrations separately, whereas when I-DNS receives an application to register a domain name in either traditional or simplified characters it blocks the other version.

Also, do you want you registration to appear as a combination of Chinese and English, or a registration which is solely in Chinese (ie chinesename.gongsi,gongsi being a transliteration of the Chinese equivalent of com)?

VeriSign will provide registrations only under .com and other English language GTLDs, where as i-DNS and CNNIC are accepting registrations for Chinese-language GTLDs such as .gongsi. This overlap between the registries gives rise to potential confusion when the use of Chinese-language domain names becomes widespread. Agreement is being sought on a technical solution for converting non-Roman domain names so they are consistent with and can be used within the Domain Name System. Only once a technical solution has been agreed on and implemented will the impact of the competing registries be known.

If you are already in the Chinese market, or may enter the market, then it is likely that having a Chinese version of your domain name is going to be important. Given the history of cybersquatting with English-language domain names and the costly disputes which have arisen from companies competing for the same domain name, there is a significant risk you will pay the price if you do not act swiftly.

The question of which registry to choose for application depends on a company's need to protect itself from cybersquatters and rival companies. If you do not envisage any problems in this, then a single application for the form of the Chinese-language domain name which you wish to use will suffice.

Otherwise it is advisable to obtain registrations at all available registries. It also worthwhile reviewing your trade mark registrations to ensure these provide adequate protection against the misuse of the Chinese-language version of your company name and trade marks online.

First published in SCMP on 27 March 2001.