Businesses must register their .au domain name

Source: Unsplash/Freestocks.

The first domain name was registered by computer company Symbolics in the United States on March 15, 1985. The first Australian domain name was registered almost a year later on March 5, 1986.

There are approximately 3.4 million domain names registered in Australia. No wonder it’s hard to come up with a name for a startup!

Over the years, there have been tens of thousands of domain name registration disputes. Initially, buying a domain name was on a first-come, first-served basis, so many people registered domain names to sit on them with the intention of making a profit.

One of the biggest changes since 1986 comes tomorrow for Australian businesses when the deadline for applying for a domain name ending in .au closes.

Businesses have had several months to register their .au domain name – but missing the deadline and not registering will be a costly oversight.

Small companies are likely to run into it, but with larger companies it can fall through the cracks because someone from one department thought someone from another department was going to do it.

Fighting over domain names is no fun. This is time consuming and can be expensive, so spending less than $25 to register your .au is money well spent.

The next major milestone after tomorrow is October 4, when names will be released from priority and available for registration by anyone. And there will be hundreds, if not thousands, of people seeing what names they can register.

They can look back and see what happened in the 80s with people sitting on popular domain names looking to make a profit. Of those that have been made public carinsurance.com sold for $49.7 million, assurance.com for $35.6 million and vacationlocations.com for $35 million. The 20e ranked first is beer.com which sold for US$7 million.

Once a domain name is registered, it is not easy to get back from a legal point of view. Disputes over .com domain names must go through the international system operated by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and .com.au through auDA.

Once you have registered your .au domain, you should consider applying for trademark registration for any trademark name that appears in your existing domain name. Trademark registrations put domain name owners in the strongest position to deal with third parties who illegitimately seek to register domain names that copy a trademark registration.

For legal issues related to domain names, it is inevitable that prevention is better than cure.

It should be remembered that to be eligible for first access to the .au domain, applicants must have a verifiable Australian presence. For companies, this means being registered in Australia via an ABN for example.

Businesses will fall into one of two categories. Companies whose domain names were created before February 4, 2018 will fall into the first category. Those whose domain names were created after this date and before March 22, 2022 fall into category two.

If two entities claim priority rights to the same .au domain, a Category 1 company will have priority. If both entities are Category 1 applicants, they must agree between themselves, otherwise the .au domain will remain unassigned.

If there are only category two applicants, the .au domain is assigned to the company with the domain license that was created first.

Even with the priority claim process, there will always be disputes. And litigation can be expensive. We are talking about tens of thousands of dollars. The advantage is that the resolution via auDA is reasonably fast – around two to three months.

There are three options with any dispute.

  1. Do nothing and the domain name remains with the current owner.
  2. The domain name registration is canceled and becomes available to the general public, even if the original registrant paid a large sum for the domain.
  3. The domain name is transferred to the party raising the dispute.

One of the biggest challenges we all face with domain names is knowing who registered it. It used to be that you could just search online and find the current holder and approach them if you wanted to buy them. Now for top level domains it is much harder to find out who the current registrant is and obtaining these details may require filing a complaint with WIPO for registrant details.

Filing a complaint with WIPO is much cheaper than litigation and can be resolved quickly (within a week or two) with expert advice.

With .com.au domain names dating back to 1986, it’s surprising how regularly disputes still arise today. I can only assume that with .au domain names there will always be disputes, especially in the short term.

You can find accredited registrars to register your .au domain name here.

Len Hickey is an intellectual property partner at Cornwalls leading law firm.