Summary and implications

.uk “short domains” will be released on 1 December 2010. Owners of trade marks which consist of one character or two letters should therefore start preparations now to apply during the Sunrise Phase for a .uk domain name which corresponds with those trade marks.

Brand owners should also continue to keep an eye on the introduction of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs). ICANN have announced that it expects to start taking applications to operate new gTLDs on 30 May 2011.

Release of .uk “short domains”

Nominet, the .uk domain name registry, published details of the sunrise process and registration rules for the release of .uk “short domains” on 1 November 2010. Short domains have until now not been registrable because of restrictions in Nominet’s rules of registration and use of .uk domain names. Most of these restrictions have now been removed.

A full list of the domain names which are being released is on the Nominet website. Certain short domains will still not be available; for example those which correspond to an existing .uk second level domain. It will therefore not be possible to register . The short domains which are not listed in the exceptions will be available as .co.uk, .org.uk, .net.uk and .me.uk.

A Registered Rights Sunrise phase will operate between 1 December 2010 and 17 January 2011. This phase is for owners of registered trade marks enforceable in the UK which exactly match the short domain applied for, excluding the domain name suffix. The registered trade mark must have been in force as of 1 January 2008 and the owner must provide evidence of bona fide use in the UK on or before 1 January 2008.

An Unregistered Rights Sunrise phase and a Landrush phase will follow the Registered Rights Sunrise phase. Where there is more than one qualifying applicant for a domain name at any of these stages, an auction process will be used to decide the successful applicant. The domain name will not be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis. This will avoid the situation which occurred during the launch of .eu domain names where an applicant was sometimes successful because his application was filed a matter of seconds before that of another applicant.

Any domain names not registered during the first three phases will then become generally available on a first-come, first-served basis.

New gTLD applications

ICANN has for some time been debating the procedure for the establishment of new generic top-level domains (gTLDs) in addition to the core group of .com, .info, .org, and .net gTLDs and others.

ICANN has now put a timetable in place which would result in its taking applications for new gTLDs on 30 May 2011. If this date is adhered to, it is anticipated that new gTLDs would go live in April 2012.

ICANN has estimated that, in the first year, up to 300 new gTLDs are likely to be established. It could therefore be prohibitively expensive for a brand owner to prove its entitlement to register even just one of its brands in a majority of the new gTLDs. A “trade mark clearinghouse” will therefore be established, which will make it easier for owners of trade marks listed in that database to apply for domain names during the Sunrise phase for the new gTLDs. The fees to be charged by the new gTLD registries to register a domain name will also need to be taken into account by brand owners when they are considering which defensive registrations to obtain.

The ICANN official fee alone to apply for a new gTLD will be $185,000. An applicant will also need to prove that it has a suitable business plan and the resources necessary to operate the gTLD. The initial and ongoing cost of operating a gTLD means that it is likely that only the very biggest brand owners will consider applying to operate a new gTLD which corresponds to one of their trade marks.