What is this thing, .MD?
After Years of Battle, Some '.MD' Web Sites Are Going Online
By TOM ZELLER, Jr.
December 13, 2004, New York Times
There are few opportunities for really tailoring a Web address to a profession. A marketing-minded lawyer, for instance, cannot register a domain that ends in ".esq" (as in www.bigsettlements.esq), any more than residents of the ivory tower can market themselves at www.smartypants.phd.
That's because top-level domains (the part that comes after the final dot) are tightly limited. One long-sought domain, however, has been the subject of bitter fights for years. And at the center of it all is the former Soviet satellite of Moldova.
A New Jersey company, MaxMd (www.max.md), recently acquired near-exclusive rights to market the ".md" domain, which technically belongs to Moldova. It is one of more than 240 domain designations that were long ago assigned to individual countries. (Britain received the decidedly less resonant ".uk," for instance.)
Almost from the moment it was assigned in 1994, Western companies cut deals with Moldova - or cut deals with companies that cut deals with Moldova - in attempts to squeeze cash out of the obvious health care connotation of its domain.
By 2002, .md was at the center of numerous legal battles and overlapping claims of exclusive rights to the suffix. Even Moldova's Parliament engaged in impassioned debate over what to do with .md.
"Many Moldovan people thought of it as part of their national identity," said Vlad Spanu, the executive director of the Moldova Foundation in Virginia and a former diplomat at the Moldovan Embassy in Washington. "They didn't think it should be licensed to foreign companies."
But it was, and the battles over .md still sting.
DotMD, a company founded by Frank M. Weyer, a California patent lawyer, first began marketing the suffix to the medical community in 1998. But in an e-mail message, Mr. Weyer said his company fell victim to "Florida scam artists, Georgia good-old boys, Beverly Hills Godfather types, corrupt Eastern European governments, untrustworthy bankruptcy trustees, million-dollar verdicts, unfriendly courts, and pervasive dishonesty and greed."
In February 2003, a United States court handling the bankruptcy of yet another company claiming a stake in the domain, DotMD L.L.C. (which Mr. Weyer says owes him $2 million), ordered all control over .md transferred back to Moldova.
That's when MaxMd stepped in.
Late last year, in exchange for a percentage of all sales, MaxMd became the latest company to secure long-term rights from Moldova to market .md in more than 90 countries. (Moldova is not among them.)
The National Institutes of Health has already snapped up www.physician.md. Johnson & Johnson has purchased more than 120 addresses so far.
And physicians are almost certain to see potential for their own names.
"It sounds nice on an ego level," said Scott Finlay, MaxMd's chief executive, "but also on a branding level."