The beginning of 2017 has been marked by the launching of the new Cyrillic country-code top level domain .бг (which is the Cyrillic equivalent to .bg). This domain name falls under the category of internationalized country-code top level domains (IND ccTLD), i.e. the domains that are encoded in such a manner that they are available for end users in their native script or specific alphabet (e.g. in Chinese, Arabic and Cyrillic characters). As such, Bulgaria has become another country with a Cyrillic national domain, following countries like Russia, Serbia and Macedonia.

In early February, the registry operator for Bulgaria­, REGISTER.BG, announced the launching of the .бг national top-level domain. This development has been a long-awaited change for Bulgaria, as it will widen the possibilities for the right owners and it will consequently expand the number of Internet users who will now be able to use their native script.

The relevant authorities have decided to preserve the same general policies and procedures that are currently in place and governing the Latin .bg top-level domain and to apply them to the new Cyrillic top-level domain. That said, it should not be understood to mean that all rules for a domain name registration are the same as with the Latin ones. In fact, there are several substantial changes. Particularly, when requesting the registration of a domain name under the new .бг ccTLD, the same domain name under Latin .bg ccTLD (if available) will be automatically reserved for the same registrant. Furthermore, the new ccTLD will be open only to EU residents and corporate entities registered in the EU countries. Thus, individuals and entities based and incorporated outside the EU will not be able to register domain names under these rules.

After the launching of Cyrillic top-level domain was announced, a three-month sunrise period was triggered and will end on May 8, 2017. Within this period, the “qualified registrants” will have a priority over the “general population” in reserving certain domain names. After this period is over, the domain names under the .бг ccTLD will be generally available.

The domain names will not be registered during the sunrise period, but they will be reserved for the registrants who have claimed them within this period. Registry will start allocating domains after May 8, 2017. In order to prevent situations in which there are two or more requests in conflict for the same domain name, the Registry has set the following order of priority:

  1. Reserved domain names: Government, state administration, etc.;
  2. Protected domain names: applicants that already have a registered domain name under .bg ccTLD can register the identical domain name under its .бг equivalent;
  3. Applicants who have certain grounds to use the name: personal name, registered trademark (identical trademark in Cyrillic), company or a trade name, etc.; and
  4. Applicants without specific grounds for use of a particular name.

In case, there are several requests concerning point 3 and/or 4, the Registry will decide the issue on a “first-come, first-served” basis.

As it can be seen, point 3 is of particular interest to trademark owners. It should be noted that the right-owners need to meet strict conditions in order to exercise their earlier rights. Namely, it is not sufficient to have just any trademark registration valid in Bulgaria, but the same must entirely correspond to the desired domain name (i.e. to have identical verbal elements) and must be in Cyrillic. Although this seems like a potential obstacle for many right holders that do not have Cyrillic trademark registrations which are effective in Bulgaria, the solution could be found in the rule from point 2 of the order of priority. In cases where the owner of a trademark has protected the domain name under the Latin .bg ccTLD, the same does not need to evoke its earlier trademark rights, but it can just fingerprint the existing domain name registration. It is also important to add, the ADR Arbitration for domain name disputes which is available for Latin Bulgarian domains will be available for Cyrillic ones as well.

It remains to be seen whether the new Bulgarian Cyrillic top-level domain will manage to gain a wider popularity and repeat the success of Russian Cyrillic top-level domain .рф that has reached over 900.000 registrations, or it will remain “the ugly twin” of the Latin ccTLD, as was the case in Serbia.