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Tuesday, 18 June, 2002, 08:46 GMT 09:46 UK
Domain windfall for Venezuelan
Rufi Guerrero
Mr Guerrero registered the names for about $15 each

The eñe character (ñ) is so characteristic of the Spanish language that it could almost be said to stand for Español.

However, for one Venezuelan youth, the eñe could soon stand for millionaire - but only if a certain technological hurdle falls first.

Like countless other young computer fans, Rufi Guerrero, now 20, spent a chunk of his teen years surfing the internet and teaching himself programming.

In late 2000, he read that Asian language characters were going to be enabled for use for World Wide Web addresses.

Competitive spirit

It was in a spirit of fun, he says, that he and a friend decided to see who could register the most domains containing the eñe character before their money ran out.

I don't like thinking about it, just as long as its more than the $15 I paid

Rufi Guerrero
Rufi won, registering about eight addresses at $15 (£10.50) each. After that, he thought little more about the competition.

Unbeknownst to him, however, he was not the only person interested in those particular addresses.

In February last year, VeriSign Corporation - a leading seller of internet domain names - selected the Spanish company Arsys to distribute addresses containing the eñe and accented vowels.

Thousands of people expressed interest, but just before the domains were to be assigned, Arsys discovered that an unknown young Venezuelan had already laid claim to two of the most coveted ones.

Demand for names

These domain names might just make Rufi a millionaire - or close to it, said Cody Mecklenburg, president of the domain appraisal company Accurate Domains.

He puts Españ's value at $350,000 and Españ's at $425,000, with both figures likely to increase.

"Españ is valued higher because while Españ will most likely be limited to Spain, Españ can be used by all Spanish speaking countries," he said.

For his own part, Rufi says he is keeping his ambitions modest.

"I don't like thinking about it," he said. "Just as long as it's more than the $15 I paid."

Unfair registration?

However, the folks at Arsys now call Rufi's registration unfair because he did it before VeriSign opened registration.

They say that VeriSign has blocked the two sought-after domains.

"Obviously, we don't consider ethical any method employed with the goal of incorrectly appropriating domain names for profit," Alberto Calvo of Arsys' Department of Communications, said.

"Anyone who wants to claim the use of these domains will have to ask Mr Guerrero for permission," responds Javier Marin, the Boston attorney whom Rufi has retained to protect his interests - and negotiate with any interested purchasers.

"Español and España are generic denominations which cannot be defined as brand or personal identification."

Rufi said he was not thinking of money when he registered the domains, and that in any case, he did everything right, and therefore the domains were his.

He said he planed to use one as a tourist site and was not sure about the other.

If the Spanish object for cultural reasons, they can at least take solace in the fact that Rufi is Hispanic.

In contrast, www.Españ, was registered by a Bulgarian.

Early days

For the moment, all discussion about the domains is moot, because VeriSign has not yet completed the software to enable non-English characters for domain names.

Meanwhile, the slender, fast-talking 20-year-old with dishevelled brown hair says he is not overly concerned about the affair.

Instead, he spends his time at his job designing websites, writing a novel about the drugs trade and preparing to start university, where he plans to study computer science.

"I tell [the negotiators] not to tell me anything," he said. "I'm just here doing my work. If one day something comes of this, then fine."

See also:

07 Nov 01 | Science/Nature
22 Feb 02 | Science/Nature
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