With effect from 23 October 2009 DENIC, the administrator of “.de” top-level domains, has changed its domain name guidelines to allow registration of second level domains consisting only of one or two letters or consisting only of numbers. The changes to DENIC’s domain guidelines follow a landmark court decision in which the Higher District Court of Frankfurt am Main held that German car maker Volkswagen, which owns the registered trade mark “VW”, could claim registration of the domain www.vw.de from DENIC on grounds of cartel law. Germany’s Federal Court of Justice later rejected DENIC’s request to appeal the decision.

To avoid further litigation from other parties who wish to register very short second-level domains, DENIC lifted its previous ban on the registration of such domains completely. The domains were available from 9.00am on 23 October 2009 on a “first come, first served” basis and unsurprisingly most were registered in the first morning. Short domain names are, potentially, very valuable – mostly because they are easy to remember and can stand for a widely-known abbreviation or trade mark (for instance, “VW”).

DENIC has been heavily criticised for announcing the change of its domain guidelines and the making available of ultra-short domain names only on 15 October 2009 – less than two weeks before allowing registration. It is expected that many companies and trade mark proprietors were unaware of this in time to register their abbreviated names as domains, even though the German press reported the change at the time. Furthermore, as the domains were provided on a “first come, first served” basis, knowledge of the availability of any new domains did not guarantee registration as another interested party could register first. Consequently, many of the ultra-short domain names may now be in possession of parties who have no interest in them other than to profit on the re-sale of the domain name – possibly to the proprietor of a trade mark who was unsuccessful in registering the domain on 23 October 2009.

DENIC – in common with most administrators of top level domains – does not check whether a person registering a domain name is violating the rights of a third party. However, right-owners who believe that their rights are being infringed by the registration and/or use of a new domain name may file a ‘dispute entry’ with DENIC. Such an entry will prevent the domain owner from transferring the domain name to a third party when subject to a claim to de-register the domain name by the rights-owner. It also prevents the domain name, should it be de-registered, from being re-registered by another party before the rights-owner can do so. After filing a ‘dispute entry’, under German law, a rights-owner has one year in which to commence legal action against the owner of a domain name until the ‘dispute entry’ restrictions come to an end.

An English version of DENIC’s new guidelines can be found here: http://www.denic.de/en/denic-in-dialog/news/2413.html.