It is estimated that by 2003 two-thirds of all Internet users will be non-English speakers; however, a significant barrier remains for many of these potential users as Internet domain names are in a restricted set of Latin characters, most commonly used to write English. "Native speakers of Arabic, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Tamil, Thai and other languages are at disadvantage," said Roberto Blois, Deputy Secretary-General of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). "The global nature of the Internet makes international dialogue critical if a universal solution to the problem is to be found." Francis Gurry, Assistant Director General of WIPO, pointed out "Equality of access to the valuable resources provided by the Internet is an issue of critical importance to the international community, and is a key concern for international intergovernmental organizations, such as ITU and WIPO." "Also, while expansion of the domain name space means greater opportunities for legitimate users, it also opens up new opportunities for cybersquatters. We are keen on ensuring that the expansion does not happen at the expense of any one party," he added.
The Domain Name System (DNS) serves to facilitate users’ ability to navigate the Internet by mapping the user-friendly domain name to its corresponding numeric Internet Protocol address. A domain name registration, whether in a generic top-level domain (gTLD) or a country code top-level domain (ccTLD), provides a global presence which ensures that the corresponding online address is accessible online from anywhere. It is estimated that there are more than 100 million such names already stored in the DNS. While the process of "internationalization" of the Internet’s DNS is underway, a number of problems need to be overcome to ensure that all linguistic systems are fairly represented on the Internet. The challenges are complex and go far beyond technical considerations; these include administrative arrangements for multilingual domains, competition policy, market access, intellectual property and dispute resolution mechanisms, as well as cultural and social issues.
A number of commercial and private organizations have proposed solutions that would enable multilingual domain name use but no de facto or technical standards that would guarantee interoperability have yet emerged from the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) . The result is a risk of confusion in the marketplace among Internet users and providers. Blois noted, "We do not want to run the risk of fracturing access to the Internet and as a result increasing the digital divide between developed and developing nations." The digital divide refers to the uneven pace of progress in access to and awareness of information and communication technologies. Gurry noted, "The Internet has achieved its remarkable success largely as a result of the fact that all users can access the same Internet from any location in the world, and any development should give priority to preserving this uniformity and stability".
The Symposium was organized by the sister UN organizations, in association with MINC, to provide a forum in which a diversity of views and perspectives could be shared, and future directions could be explored. By looking at existing challenges faced on a daily basis by intellectual property holders and administrators in protecting trademarks in our multilingual world, experts in intellectual property and Internet technology shared experiences that may lead to a greater understanding of the issues raised by an increasingly internationalized domain name space. Key among those issues is the critical challenge faced by enterprises in protecting their intellectual property in a multilingual world, both on and offline, and the need for effective dispute resolution to resolve the domain name conflicts that will inevitably arise.
According to Blois and Gurry, the joint ITU/WIPO symposium is a step in bringing about a wider understanding of the many issues raised by the implementation of multilingual Internet names. Gurry said, "We welcome an orderly expansion of the domain name system which more accurately reflects the linguistic diversity of the offline world and is done in a way that preserves the rights of intellectual property owners." Blois said, "We should not underestimate the significance of this activity, as it is part of a broader objective: namely the true internationalization of the Internet. Let us work together towards that noble goal."