A no-name in Chicago protects Web names

October 11, 2004


Lunching at Chicago's Atwood Cafe, David Maher looks like any customer. No one knows his name. You wouldn't expect the 70-year-old Maher, born and raised in Kenwood, to be an Internet legend who jets across continents to settle controversies and establish policies surrounding Internet names.

"I'm a recovering trademark lawyer," jokes Maher, who's a retired partner with Sonnenschein Nath & Rosenthal. Ten years ago this month, Maher counseled McDonald's when Wired mag- azine writer Josh Quittner published an article claiming title to the McDonalds.com Internet domain name. After Maher's intervention, Quittner offered to yield title to McDonald's in return for a charitable contribution.

The situation opened Maher's eyes to the need for a set of rules to guide the wild and wooly Internet. As a result, Maher's behind-the-scenes imprint can be found on most of the rules that govern the management of Internet domain names.

Off to meet a pioneer

In 1995, Maher set off to meet Jon Postel, a technology pioneer who controlled the burgeoning Internet from his lab at the University of Southern California.

"He didn't know anything about trademark law," Maher says. "I told him he ought to study up, because the trademark/domain name issue was becoming serious." Following the briefing, Postel appointed Maher to the International Ad Hoc Committee that evaluated the problem. The rest is history.

Thanks to Maher's efforts, companies like Coca-Cola, Nike and Kodak no longer must payoff cyber squatters who register famous brand names as domain names and seek a king's ransom.

Today, Maher is a household name in the halls of ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), which determines what organizations manage the registration of the Internet's top level domains: .com, .net, .org, .info, .biz, .name and .pro.

He can recite the history of the Internet from memory because he lived it.

At a time in life when most successful trademark lawyers spend their days playing golf, Maher commutes twice monthly to Reston, Va., where he's senior vice president for law and policy at the Public Interest Registry, which manages the .org domain. He'll shortly attend the next ICANN meeting, which debates, among other things, whether the United Nations should assume control of the Internet.

When Maher arrives in Cape Town, South Africa, everyone there will know his name.

Funny thing is, this fellow who's done so much to protect our rights to names online isn't a very big name in his own hometown.

I'm not sure that's fair, but Maher doesn't seem to mind.

AgriBiotech focus on tap

This Friday, the University of Chicago's Robert Rosenberg reconvenes the Chicago Tech Forum series at the Gleacher Center. The focus is on AgriBiotech. Speakers include Ron Meeusen, vice president for research at Dow AgroScience, and Roger Wyse, managing director at Burrill & Co. Meeusen is a commercial leader in the field, while Wyse is a key AgriBiotech venture capitalist.

"Too often we think of biotech as developing new drugs," says Rosenberg, who believes that AgriBiotech includes food science and new fuels. That field might be a larger opportunity for Chicago entrepreneurs than traditional pharmaceuticals.

"Bio-2006 (the industry trade show coming here) is an opportunity to highlight AgriBiotech in what is largely a traditional drug-oriented show."

It's an area where the "Midwest has a real lead," Rosenberg adds.

Bits & Bytes

*The Illinois Coalition hosts its Monday Morning meeting today at the Evanston Hilton. New tech start-up presenters include Arnab Mallik, president of Bio Integrated Solutions, an integrated liquid-handling-solutions provider; Bakhtiar Hafeez, CEO Collatus, a Web communications company; Sam Mele, president, Firm58, a trading operations applications developer, and Andy Parker, CEO, HubTack Inc., which focuses on solutions for land surveyors. ARCH Development managing partner Tom Churchwell moderates.

Des Plaines-based Wheels Inc. makes the InformationWeek 500 list of most innovative tech users.

Josh Linker, CEO of ePrize, talks eMarketing Thursday at Maggiano's courtesy of the American Marketing Association.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.


 ©2004 Marion Consulting Partners