The Names Panel of the central .au registry auDA is considering whether to open up direct registrations of .au domain names eg. name.au. Presently it is only possible to register second-level domain names eg. name.com.au. A number of other country codes have been opened up for direct registrations in recent years including .cn (China), .uk (United Kingdom) and .nz (New Zealand), which is placing pressure on .au to follow suit despite auDA having previously rejected direct registrations.

Direct registration might benefit traders who have legitimate interests in a trade mark which has already been registered by a third party, particularly in the most desirable .com.au domain. However, it would also involve risks for trade mark owners, who usually must either defensively register their marks in the new domain releases or take other action such as notification of their rights in “sunrise” periods before launch, or otherwise engage in disputes with new domain name registrants. These involve added costs for trade mark owners.

While there are commercial imperatives on the supply side for opening up the .au space, Gilbert + Tobin has submitted that if the Names Panel is considering such a radical change, any registrations should be on at least the same terms (including eligibility criteria) as currently applied to the existing second level domains, and that additional registrar-based protections such as the initial automatic reservation period adopted in relation to the release of the .uk domain should also be implemented to avoid a fresh round of cybersquatting and cost to Australian businesses.