We previously covered the need for businesses to establish a clear and consistent strategy for registering and renewing domain names (see: ‘Is it time to rationalise your domain name portfolio?’). For UK businesses with .eu domain name registrations, 29 March 2019 (‘Brexit day’) adds a further deadline.

As the European Commission has previously made clear: "As of the withdrawal date, undertakings and organisations that are established in the United Kingdom but not in the EU, and natural persons who reside in the United Kingdom will no longer be eligible to register .eu domain names or, if they are .eu registrants, to renew .eu domain names registered before the withdrawal date."

As things stand, this means not only that UK businesses will no longer be eligible to register or renew .eu domain names as of 11pm UTC on 29 March, but also that they will not be able to draw upon their UK trademark rights to act against infringing or bad faith registrations of .eu domains from that date.

For its part, EURid, the registry that manages the .eu domain, has issued an action plan that covers two possible scenarios:

Scenario 1: If the UK leaves the EU with no deal

  • New registrations: as of 00:00:00 CET on 30 March, EURid will NOT allow the registration of any new domain name where the registrant country code is either GB/GI.
  • Existing registrations: EURid will notify by email both GB/GI registrants and their registrars about the non-compliance of the data associated to their domain name within the .eu regulatory framework. Registrants will be given the possibility to demonstrate their compliance with the .eu regulatory framework by updating their contact data (e.g. indicating a legally established entity in one of the eligible EU27 or EEA Member States, or update of residence) before 30 May 2019, 00:00:00 CEST. During this two-month period, the domain names in question will remain active.
  • Renewals pending: Any domain name that has GB/GI as registrant country code and expires in the period between 30 March 2019, 00:00:00 CET, and 30 May 2019, 00:00:00 CEST, will not be automatically renewed. It will be moved to the WITHDRAWN status at the moment it expires.
  • Revocation: Twelve months after the UK withdrawal, i.e. on 30 March 2020 00:00:00 CET, all the affected domain names will be REVOKED, and will become AVAILABLE for general registration. For security and stability reasons, the release of all affected domain names will occur in batches from the time they become available.
  • On hold: Domain names that are ON HOLD, meaning for which there is a legal court case pending, will remain registered until there is an outcome of the court case. However, they will be SUSPENDED and will cease to function as of 30 May 2019, 00:00:00 CEST. If the outcome of the court case is that the domain name should stay with the GB/GI registrant, the domain name will be WITHDRAWN as soon as practicable after the final decision from the court.

Scenario 2: If the UK leaves after a planned transitional period

  • New registrations: EURid will NOT allow the registration of any new domain name where the registrant country code is either GB/GI at the end of that transitional period (assuming that the final withdrawal agreement does not contain any specific provisions relating to .eu domain names)..
  • Existing registrations/renewals pending/on hold: The same processes as set out above will take place starting from the end of the transitional period (assuming again that the final withdrawal agreement does not contain any specific provisions relating to .eu domain names).
  • Revocation: Twelve months after the the end of the transition period (assuming no specific provisions have been agreed), all the affected domain names will be REVOKED, and will become AVAILABLE for general registration. Their release will occur in batches from the time they become available.

Preparing for these scenarios

To minimise the impact on their European web presence post-Brexit, any UK business that is also established in the EU would be wise to consider transferring their .eu domain registrations to entities/subsidiaries within the EU to ensure they continue to enjoy the use of their .eu domains. This can be done now or within the two-month window set out by EURid for such updates/transfers.

Companies (or individuals) that do not have such a presence in the EU, however, will need to consider what the impact on their business will be once their .eu domain name is not renewed or revoked after Brexit, including:

  • How to transfer their .eu presence (and traffic) to a new non-eu domain;
  • Which gTLD or ccTLDs to favour moving forward; and
  • How to tackle potentially infringing/bad faith .eu registrations in the future.

Depending on how active your business needs to be in terms of identifying and acting against infringement activity in the EU post-Brexit (including counterfeiting activity, cybersquatting and look-alike sites), you may also wish to consider implementing a domain name watching process in order to monitor core trademark rights, as well as to design a defence strategy for prioritising action.