Recent high-profile instances of cybersquatting and the placing of derogatory sites such as introducingmonday.co.uk, have highlighted the vital role that domain names play as the virtual gateway to a company's brand.
The introduction of the .eu domain will undoubtedly provide another opportunity for cybersquatters, and competitors in business, to capitalise on companies that have failed to prepare for its introduction.
So what practical steps should you be taking to protect your company's online intellectual property? And how can you make sure that the process of registering .eu domain names is as smooth as possible? The first step should be to obtain a comprehensive picture of your company's existing online assets.
There was a boom in domain name registrations at the turn of the millennium, with many companies registering almost every possible variant of their names, as well as actual and prospective products.
Usually these were not registered through a company officer, but by different employees across the organisation, or even outside contractors.
Crucially, most companies did not have, and still do not have, a policy in place to handle domain registrations, leaving larger organisations and brand owners with hundreds of domain names to manage.
Selecting for .eu
Once you have established which domain names your company holds, you will then need to decide which ones should be registered under the .eu suffix.
If your company has a large number of domain names this decision will probably require input from different parts of the business, such as marketing, product management and legal representatives, in order to ensure that the most important domains are given priority during the registration process.
The process of registering domains could prove to be particularly vexatious for registered trademark owners. The root of the problem is the lack of a central trademark database.
Most countries have a directory of registered trademarks, but because domain names are global and there is no worldwide list that registrars can consult, this can make it extremely difficult to resolve trademark disputes.
Affilias, the organisation which managed the introduction of .info in 2001, had to resolve more than 15,000 cases where trademark owners claimed the same site address. This problem could prove to be particularly
difficult as companies with similar trademarks in different countries in Europe vie for the rights to a domain name.
An important preparatory step should be to determine that the trademark registrations your company holds are up-to-date and establish which are also held in other European countries.
The EC is currently searching for an organisation to manage the introduction of the new suffix. Before .eu goes live the registry operator will have to develop policies for the registration process and put them in place.
However, the experience from the introduction of previous domain name suffixes such as .info and .biz shows that deadlines and rules governing registrations can change at short notice. It is therefore vital that the individual within the company responsible for managing domain names is aware of the latest news.
Luckily there are a number of respected e-newsletters, such as N3Lite and Moreover Domain News, which will keep readers fully informed of the latest developments.
What to do about .eu
- Make sure you have an up to date domain registration policy
- Check out your online assets - what names do you already have registered?
- Consider which domains you already own need to be registered as .eu - consult fully with the business on this
- Find out about the international status of your trademarks and take steps to protect the appropriate domains
- Remember to include future products in the registrations.
Jonathan Robinson is director of business development at NetNames. E-mail: jonathan.robinson @netnames.com, or go to www.netnames.com/