Internet: companies must act now to secure a place in the cyberspace of the European Union

Whether you are an IT director, CIO, web manager or marketing representative for your company, you cannot afford to ignore the launch of the .eu top-level domain on 7 December.

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Whether you are an IT director, CIO, web manager or marketing representative for your company, you cannot afford to ignore the launch of the .eu top-level domain on 7 December.

Although never likely to rival .com for the top spot on companies' wish-lists or consumers' web-browsers, .eu is the much-trumpeted new domain for the 25 member countries of the European Union. With 459.5 million consumers living within the EU, and a number of registration deadlines falling shortly, now is the time to act to secure your company's place in European cyberspace.

Europe has long wanted its own top level domain. Aiming to increase competition across the European common market, .eu will allow EU businesses to centralise their web presence and streamline their marketing using  www.brand.eu, rather than maintaining and promoting separate country-based sites such as www. brand.fr and www.brand.co.uk.

In developing the .eu domain, the European authorities have drawn on the experience of recent domain launches, and have tried to iron out some of the problems of cyber squatting, and competing interests in certain character strings.

No one would doubt the ownership of www.coca-cola.eu (the world's most valuable brand), but there could well be dispute over who should be able to register www.apple.eu, with Apple Computers, Apple Records and the singer Fiona Apple all potentially vying for the registration.

The first come, first served rule developed to deal with this issue may seem strict, and is another good reason to act now to secure your company's .eu domain name.

The European Commission has appointed the European Registry of Internet Domain names (Eurid), a not-for-profit organisation, to operate the .eu top-level domain. Working with PriceWaterhouseCoopers, it will oversee the hundreds of accredited registers, from as far afield as Barbados and Australia, who will begin registering .eu domain names on 7 December.

Who can register .eu domains?

To register a .eu domain name, you must be one of the following:

  • An undertaking which has its registered office, central administration or principal place of business within the EU
  • An organisation established within the EU
  • A "natural person" resident within the EU.

This should include most entities that can demonstrate a presence "on the ground" within the EU, but for non-EU companies, it may mean having to register the .eu domain name in the name of a .eu-based subsidiary.

When can sites be registered?

The launch date for .eu is 7 December, with three main phases: phases one and two, commonly referred to as the "sunrise" period, and phase three, the ensuing general registration period.

The purpose of these two initial phases is to allow individuals, organisations and public bodies which have name ownership rights of some kind to register any names relating to these rights before non-rights holders have the opportunity to do so - an attempt to avoid cyber squatting.

The "sunrise" periods are designed to avoid conflict between those who own rights, and those who do not, such as cyber squatters.

To sort out possible conflicts, Eurid has appointed the Czech Arbitration Court to provide an arbitration service. The Czech Arbitration Court will offer a service similar to that offered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (Wipo) under the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names andNumbers' (Icann) Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, and will be available to "reclaim" domain names from cyber squatters.

But where a domain name could rightly be owned by more than one entity (such as www.apple.eu), the system will operate on a first come, first served basis - so you may well miss out. Registering early for the domain names of interest is therefore advisable.

The three phases of .eu registration

Phase one (7 December 2005 to 6 February 2006)

During phase one, the only domain names that can be registered are those that correspond with:

  • The full name of a public body
  • The acronym by which a public body is commonly known
  • If applicable, the territory which is governed by a public body
  • Registered national and EU trademarks.

Phase two (7 February to 6 April)

During phase two, the only domain names that can be registered are those that correspond with the names covered in phase one and other rights that are protected under the national law of the member state where they are held. These rights include:

  • Company names
  • Business identifiers
  • Distinctive titles of protected literary and artistic works
  • Unregistered trademarks
  • Trade names.

Phase three - general registration (after 7 April)

During phase three, any member of the public will be able to register a .eu domain name as long as the person satisfies the geographical criteria set out above and is in compliance with the terms and conditions of registration.

More information

www.eurid.eu

www.arbcourt.cz/adreu

David Stone is partner in the London intellectual property practice of international law firm Howrey

This was last published in December 2005

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