On 13 September 2010, the Registry for .UK domain names (Nominet) announced that it would soon be releasing various one and two character domain names under the extensions .CO.UK, ORG.UK, .NET.UK and .ME.UK.  

At the moment many Top Level Domains (TLDs) do not allow one and two character domain names to be registered, mainly for historical reasons based on ensuring the security of the internet. In particular it was generally thought that allowing the registration of two letter domain names at the second or third level may cause confusion, especially given the fact that the two letter codes published by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO) are used to designate country code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs) on the internet.  

However, it is now generally accepted that such concerns are rather outdated and that technically there is no reason why one and two character domain names cannot be made available for registration. In this regard a number of TLD Registries have recently allowed the release of such domain names (for example .BIZ and .MOBI) and more are set to follow.  

Nominet has been considering the issue of one and two character domain names for a while and recently undertook a public consultation on the issue which ran from 8 March to 8 June 2010 (see the March 2010 issue of Anchovy News). According to Nominet, the results were mainly in favour of the release. Nominet has therefore decided to manage the release in two phases, a Sunrise period for holders of prior trade marks followed by a Landrush period which will be open to everyone.  

This is good news for brand owners with one or two character trade marks, as with a little forward planning they will have a high chance of securing their domain names. One and two character domain names are usually very expensive on the domain name aftermarket, given that there are only a finite number of them, and so when they are released by Registries they are highly sought after and competition to obtain them is usually tough.  

The German Registry, DENIC, was recently criticised when it released one and two character domain names as the release took place on very short notice on a first come, first served basis. There were no rights protection mechanisms put in place for trade mark holders and domain name registrars who had a realistic chance of securing domain names on a first come, first served basis (namely the larger ones with sophisticated systems in place) were reportedly able to charge successful applicants five to six figure sums for them.  

In order to avoid such criticism and to try and ensure an orderly and fair release, Nominet is planning to operate a first stage Sunrise period for the holders of registered trade marks enforceable in the UK which exactly correspond to the required domain name and which were in force as of  

1 January 2008. Evidence of bona fide use in the UK on or before 1 January 2008 also has to be provided to the satisfaction of an independent assessor. These rather strict rules aim to prevent cybersquatters from effectively gaming the system and registering trade marks specifically for the purpose of obtaining valuable domain names. This is something that has been widely prevalent in the launch of previous domain name extensions, such as .EU.  

There will also be a second stage Sunrise period for (i) any person who would have qualified for the first Sunrise but missed the application deadline and (ii) the holders of unregistered rights enforceable in the UK which exactly correspond to the required domain name and which were in force as of 1 January 2008. Again evidence of bona fide use in the UK on or before 1 January 2008 has to be provided to the satisfaction of an independent assessor.  

If there are multiple qualifying applicants then the domain name will be sold to the highest bidder at auction. Nominet has said that any profits it makes from this exercise will go to the Nominet Trust, which is a charity founded to provide support to organizations and projects working to increase access to the internet, online safety and education.  

Nominet has said that it will publish more details of the release on 1 November 2010 and aims to start the first stage before the end of the year. A list of all the domain names available for release is available at the following link: http://www.nic.uk/digitalAssets/45272_domains-to-bereleased. pdf. We will of course keep you informed of any further developments.  

To visit the Nominet website, please go to: http://www.nominet.org.uk/.