Company’s patent portfolio isn’t limited to domain name industry.
Last week Verisign said it would consider ways to monetize its patent portfolio.
The company’s patent portfolio is quite broad. In addition to covering domain names, it has patents and patent applications covering everything from digital cameras to online payments to databases to telecom.
Who will it go after?
Let’s take a look at some of the potential targets.
Competing domain registries
Verisign has a number of patents related to registry operations.
It has a collection of internationalized domain name patents (e.g. 8,341,252 and 8,291,048). It also has patents related to running a whois database (8,090,693). It has patents pending covering DNSSEC, the recovery of a failed registry, methods to predict domain renewal rates, and systems to predict traffic to non-existent domains.
Possible targets include Afilias and Neustar, neither of which have meaningful patent portfolios. (At least in the United States. Afilias is headquartered in Ireland).
Although it could get ugly, these competing registries would make good targets for asserting patents.
Domain name registrars
Domain name registrars are Verisign’s customers, so it seems unlikely that the company would get aggressive with them. That said, plenty of companies sue their customers for patent infringement (witness Apple and Samsung).
Verisign’s patents related to domain name registrars cover aspects of bulk checking and registration of ccTLDs (e.g. 8,356,081 7,000,028) and bulk checking of second level domain availability within multiple TLDs (6,560,634).
A more likely (but still unlikely) scenario is that Verisign offers licenses to its patent portfolio to registrars in return for something intangible such as added promotion.
Much like Afilias and Neustar, most domain name registrars are sitting ducks when it comes to patent lawsuits. Go Daddy is the only registrar I’m aware of that has a robust patent portfolio.
Web hosting companies could also fall under this umbrella, and might be easier to go after than a registrar because they often aren’t direct customers of Verisign. Verisign has patents pending related to DDoS, DNSSEC and hosting, etc.
Perhaps an easier target can be found in companies that may infringe Verisign’s non-domain related patents.
Targets could be search engines, software companies, and network equipment companies.
Although they may present fewer known conflicts, a lot of these companies are hardened warriors in the patent arena. Going after them may open Verisign up to counterclaims and some costly battles.
(Interestingly, Verisign recently filed an application covering “systems, methods, and computer software for innovation management”.)
The right approach?
I expect Verisign to tread carefully. Bad press around patent activities could upset the company’s relationship with ICANN and the U.S. government. That could be a problem when it comes to time to renew its .com contract. The company is unlikely to forget that the real key is holding on to that $800 million-a-year deal to run .com.