VeriSign Inc. said on Monday it would maintain control of the lucrative ".com" Internet domain until 2012 in return for dropping an antitrust lawsuit against the nonprofit body that oversees the Internet's addressing system.
The agreement settles a long-running dispute between the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN, and the most powerful company under its jurisdiction. The settlement comes at a time when ICANN is under attack from China, Iran and other countries that want more direct control over the domain-name system that guides traffic around the Internet.
"It really hits the reset button on the relationship between VeriSign and ICANN and allows everybody to get focussed on more important things, like security and stability and the globalization of the Internet," VeriSign Senior Vice President Mark McLaughlin said in an interview.
ICANN President Paul Twomey said the settlement shows that issues involving the domain-name system are best resolved within ICANN, rather than through an international bureaucratic body.
"We can actually organise that through ICANN's own structure, which has technical people and business people and governments all involved in it," Twomey said in a telephone interview.
Mountain View, California-based VeriSign introduced a search engine in September 2003 that directed Internet users who mistype domain names like "www.example.com" to a search engine which contained advertisements.
ICANN ordered VeriSign to temporarily shut down the service a month later after engineers said that it could interfere with the stability of the Internet.
VeriSign sued in February 2004, saying the Internet body had overstepped its authority and illegally restrained competition.
The case was thrown out of U.S. court in August 2004, but VeriSign refiled in California state court.
Under the terms of the agreement, VeriSign gets to maintain control of the database of 35 million ".com" domain names until 2012. The contract would have otherwise come up for renewal in 2007.
VeriSign makes $6 per year from each of the 35 million .com domain names in use. It also controls the .net domain, which contains nearly 6 million names.
The settlement requires ICANN to review within 90 days new products or services introduced by VeriSign and its competitors that might impact the domain-name system.
Competition concerns would be referred to government antitrust authorities in the relevant country, Twomey said.
McLaughlin said VeriSign has no current plans to bring its search engine back online.