Nominet, the company that manages the UK domain space, will shortly be introducing .uk domain names. This means that from 10 June 2014 shorter domain names such as <brand.uk> will be available for the first time, alongside existing UK domain name endings such as .co.uk and .org.uk. Existing UK domain names will continue to function as normal, however, their owners will be offered certain rights of first refusal over the new .uk domain names. Brand owners should therefore consider (i) the advantages registering a .uk domain name can offer and (ii) what steps need to be taken to protect their brands in light of the introduction of .uk.
Rights of existing domain name owners
Owners of existing UK domain names (as listed in the table below) will have a right of first refusal over equivalent .uk domain names to those they have already registered. For example, the owner of <brand.co.uk> will, generally, have the right to register <brand.uk> before any third parties can. The right of first refusal will last for five years (from 10 June 2014 until 10 June 2019), provided that the registration of the initial domain name is maintained. The right to register the .uk domain name attaches to the existing domain name, so if the existing domain name is transferred, the right to the .uk domain name will be transferred with it.
If the owner of the existing domain name does not register the .uk domain name by 10 June 2019, it will become available for the public to register on a first-come, first-served basis.
Importantly, domain name owners will only benefit from rights in relation to domain names which are identical to that owner’s current domain name (e.g. the owner of <brand.co.uk> will have no rights in relation to <bran-d.uk> or <brand-shop.uk>). This means that domain name watch services will remain important in becoming aware of cyber squatters, particularly as the new domain name ending will be perceived as a lucrative opportunity by such persons.
The situation is more complex where multiple domain names have been registered which are equivalent to the .uk domain name (e.g. where both <brand.co.uk> and <brand.org.uk> are registered by different people). If there are multiple equivalent domain names in existence on 10 June 2014, the order of priority set out below will apply to determine who has the right to the equivalent .uk domain name.
Click here to view table.
For example if <brand.co.uk> has not been registered, the owner of <brand.org.uk> has the right to register the <brand.uk> domain name. Once these rights have been granted to a domain name, any lower ranking domain name will only have the opportunity to register the .uk domain name if it becomes available to the public and will have to compete on a first-come, first-served basis. If the owner of a .co.uk domain name does not choose to purchase the equivalent .uk domain name, the right does not pass down to the owner of the .org.uk domain name.
There are two situations where the .uk domain name will become available for the public to register on a first-come, first-served basis prior to 10 July 2019. First, if between 10 June 2014 and 10 June 2019 the registration of the domain name to which the right of first refusal is attached lapses (the rights will not pass to the next domain name in the order of priority) and second, if on 10 June 2014 there is no existing UK domain name equivalent to the new .uk domain name. ‘Old style’ domain names registered after 10 June 2014 will not benefit from any right over the equivalent .uk domain name.
Brand owners should consider taking the following steps:
- Take inventory of current UK domain names in your portfolio to see if you can benefit from the right of first refusal.
- Do a search on www.dotuklaunch.co.uk/rights-lookup-tool to see who has first rights to a specific .uk domain name.
- If you have priority rights in respect of a .uk domain name, register it from the 10 June 2014 (your right to do this before a third party lasts for five years).
- Consider if there are any similar .uk domain names to your brand you wish to attempt to register to prevent cyber squatting (assuming no one else has a right of first refusal). Retail prices of .uk domain names are expected to be similar to those for .co.uk (typically about £5 per year). This may be a small price to pay to prevent a third party from egistering the .uk equivalent.
- If you are considering whether to register a new .co.uk domain name, check whether that domain name would benefit from rights over the .uk equivalent. If so, it will be necessary to register the domain name before the 10 June 2014 to benefit from those rights.
- If you do not have domain name watch services in place, consider signing up to them so you can be aware of third parties registering similar domain names to your brand.