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Intellectual property


Internet domain names

This section contains:


ICAAN and domain name registration

Domain name hierarchy

Top-level domains

TLD registries

The WHOIS service

Choosing a domain name

Dispute resolution



In the technical context of the Internet, a domain name represents an Internet Protocol resource, such as a personal computer used to access the Internet, a server computer hosting a web site, or the web site itself or any other service communicated via the Internet. Resources connected to the Internet have unique numerical addresses so that electronic information is delivered to the right place. The domain name system translates the numerical addresses of computers into a memorable name readable by a human. Domain names are used to identify particular web pages published by a person (including an individual, company or other entity).

ICANN and domain name registration

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (‘ICANN’) was established in 1998 and is a public-private partnership which operates under a contract with the United States' Department of Commerce. It co-ordinates the stable operation of the internet's unique identifier systems and is concerned primarily with technical issues and in particular and most importantly with the operation of the system of internet domain names. It has no remit concerning conduct over or content on the internet. Guides to the internet protocol and domain name system may be found at:

Domain name hierarchy

Domain names are formed according to technical rules published in internet documents (RFC 1035, RFC 1123, and RFC 2181). Domain names are organised in a hierarchy and consist of one or more parts or “labels” which are strung together and delimited by dots, such as

The right-most label conveys the top-level domain (“TLD”).The hierarchy of domains descends from right to left; each label to the left specifies a subdivision, or subdomain of the domain to the right. In the case of for example, .uk is the top level domain, .co is a second level domain and a subdomain of the .uk domain and legaleze is a third level domain and a sub domain of This tree of subdivisions may have up to 127 levels.

In some TLDs, users may be required to use third-level domains. Nominet UK, the registry for the United Kingdom (.uk), requires all names to have a third level domain (e.g. or

Below the second or third level (or lower-level, depending on the established parent hierarchy), the next domain name component is used to designate a particular host server.

* points to an FTP server (“FTP” being File Transfer Protocol, a language permitting data to be “uploaded” or sent up from a computer into a server);
* points to a World Wide Web server; and
* would point to an email server.

Top level domain names

TLDs for general use include generic top-level domains (gTLD), country-code top-level domains (ccTLD) and internationalized top-level domains (IDNs). There is a list at:

Generic top-level domains

Unrestricted generic top-level domains (“(gTLDs”) are domains which are available for registration by any person for any use. The chief gTLDs in this group are com, net, org, and info.

Restricted gTLDs are restricted to persons who are eligible under the rules for the relevant TLD such as biz, name and pro.

Sponsored top-level domains are also restricted to eligibility criteria enforced by private organisations; e.g .aero is sponsored by the Société Internationale de Télécommunications Aéronautiques which limits registrations to members of the air-transport was introduced in response to NATO's request for a domain name which adequately reflected its character as an international organisation.

In this category are: aero, asia, biz, coop, info, jobs, mobi, museum, name,pro, mobi, tel, travel and xxx.

Geographic TLDs (‘GeoTLD’)

GeoTLDs use the name of or invoking an association with a geographical, geopolitical, ethnic, linguistic or cultural community. There are two GeoTLDs:

* .cat, for the Catalan language and culture;, and
* .asia.

Country code TLDS

Country code TLDS are generally used to indicate where a person is resident or doing business. The rules on the question of residence vary for each TLD. However, within the EEA an individual resident and an entity established in any EEA state may in principle register a name in the country code TLD applying to any EEA state.

Some country code TLDs are “open” in the sense that any person may register a domain regardless of which country the person resides in. These TLDs generally indicate a type of organisation or activity apart from the name of the country or territory it represents. Examples include .cc (Cocos Island) for consulting companies, .tv (Tuvalu) for television, .ws (Western Samoa) for websites, .me (Montenegro) for blogs and .co (Colombia) as an alternative to .com for companies.

New top-level domains

In June 2011, ICANN's Board of Directors approved the launch of the New gTLD Program. The aim of the program was to enhance competition and consumer choice via the introduction of new gTLDs, including both new ASCII (i.e Latin characters a-z) and internationalized domain name (IDN) top-level domains. Companies, cities and other organisations will be able to create new top level Internet domains, for example using the name of a brand or a particular locality. The use of non-Latin characters (such as Cyrillic, Arabic, Chinese, etc.) will also be allowed in gTLDs. The closing date for applications was 12 April 2012. The initial price to apply for a new gTLD will be $185,000, with an annual fee of $25,000.

Legaleze comment: the new gTLD program has been controversial. The program has been criticised because it will confuse consumers by spreading Internet searches across hundreds or even thousands of new top-level domains. In March 2012 it was reported that the U.S. government had threatened to terminate the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) contract which would impair if not destroy ICANN's ability to implement its address expansion program. The US government warned that ICANN’s rules against conflicts of interest were not strong enough and only temporarily extended ICANN's contract instead of renewing it as many in the industry had expected. The conflict of interest concerns arise from the fact that some past and present board members stand to benefit financially from the liberalization of Web addresses through ties to organizations that make money from registering new domain names or consulting on the expansion.

TLD registries

The Internet Assigned Names Authority (“IANA”, a department of ICANN) delegates domain name authority to registry operators or Network Information Centers (“NICs”) which maintain the database of domain names and generate the zone files which convert domain names to IP addresses. Each NIC manages the registration of domain names within the top-level domains for which it is responsible and controls the policies of domain name allocation.
NICs may be government departments (e.g., the registry for Sri Lanka, co-operatives of Internet service providers (such as DENIC in Germany) or not-for profit companies (such as Nominet UK). Other NICs operate as commercial organisations, such as Verisign, Inc. (NIC for the .com, .net, and .name gTLDs and the .cc and .tv country-code TLDs).

Domain name registrars and registrants

Any entity that wants to offer domain name registration services under gTLDs (e.g. .com, .net, .org, and .info) with a direct access to the gTLD registries is required to obtain an accreditation from ICANN. There is a list of ICANN accredited registrars at:

In addition to ICANN accreditation in the case of registration services for gTLDs, a company desiring to be a registrar must enter into a Registrar’s Agreement with a particular NIC and pay the required fee. Once accepted, a domain name registrar has the right to grant a domain name. The domain name registrars send registration information about each domain name to the NIC which publishes the information in the form of the “whois” service (see below). The registrars also process transfers and cancellations of domain names.

Some NICs also function as registrars to end-users. There is competition between registrars on fees for registering and transferring domain names.

The end users, i.e. individuals, companies and other organisations applying for and holding domain names are known as “registrants” or "domain holders". There may be additional layers of resellers between the registrant and the registrar.

Nominet maintains a list of registrars which may issue .uk domains at:

Legaleze comment: where an end user appoints an IP consultant or other agent in order to register a domain name, the consultant may in some cases register the domain name in the consultant’s own name. Generally speaking, you should resist this and insist on your business being named as the registrant.

The WHOIS service

The NIC responsible for each TLD registry maintains an online database in the form of the WHOIS service. This service permits a search to be made to check if a domain name already exists and if so to reveal details of the registrant, registrar, name servers and expiration dates.

In the case of .uk, the WHOIS lookup is at:

In the case of .com, the WHOIS service is at:

Choosing a domain name

TLD: as noted above, a domain name comprises a hierarchy of a top level domain, second level domain and sometimes further levels.

The first issue in choosing a domain name is therefore the choice of the top level domain you wish to register in. The name you desire may not be available in the TLD you require, e.g. in .com and .uk.

Legaleze comment: the choice of a TLD will be influenced by a number of factors including the location of your business, the image you wish to project, the availability of the business or brand name which you wish to use your domain name in that TLD and your perception of Internet fashions. Nominet’s website claims that 81% of people say they would choose a .uk over a .com when searching for a product or service. The main reasons given were that it would be more likely to be a UK based company and have more relevance with prices in sterling and acceptable delivery charges.

Personal and business name part of the domain name: domain names are generally allocated on a first-come-first-served system of allocation. In principle therefore a domain name will be registered if it is not identical to an existing name and domain names are not case sensitive. This is subject to the rights of other businesses not being infringed, e.g. due to prior trade mark registrations.

The rules of some TLDs may not allow specific domains on the basis of political, religious, historical, legal or cultural reasons.

If the name you desire is already registered, there are only limited grounds for making an objection even if the name is not being used (see below: dispute resolution).

Second level domains: in some country code TLDs, a second level domain (“SLD”) is required to distinguish the type of person or entity who is the registrant.

Rules for uk second level domains

In the case of .uk, an SLD is required and these are set out in the Nominet Rules of Registration and Use of Domain Names

The most common SLDs in the .uk domain are and Although the distinction is not compulsory, is expected to be used for a commercial entity and for a not-for-profit or public service organisation.

Other SLDs in the .uk domain and their intended use are as follows:        private limited company       public limited company       personal name       Internet Service Providers' infrastructure      schools

The following SLDS although within the .uk domain are not administered by Nominet but by third-party registrars:        higher and further education and research institution      national, regional, and local government bodies and agencies       military and related purposes     National Health Service  police forces

Dispute resolution

In the case of disputes arising in domains which are registered with ICANN registrars, the registrar must follow the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy ("UDRP")

Under the policy, most types of trademark-based domain-name disputes must be resolved by agreement, court action, or arbitration before a registrar will cancel, suspend, or transfer a domain name. Disputes alleged to arise from abusive registrations of domain names (for example, ‘cybersquatting’) may be addressed by expedited administrative proceedings that the holder of trademark rights initiates by filing a complaint with an approved dispute-resolution service provider.

Some country code TLDs require all disputes to be referred to the ordinary courts (as in the case of DENIC in Germany).

Nominet UK deals with intellectual property and other disputes through its own dispute resolution service

A registered trade mark proprietor is not automatically entitled to use that mark as a domain name. This is because the same trade mark may be registered for different goods or services and by different proprietors. Further, a person may have legitimately registered the domain name, perhaps with its use being connected with unregistered goods or services.
Conversely, registration of a domain name does not automatically mean that a similar trade mark will satisfy the requirements for trade mark registration.

Abusive Registrations and cybersquatting

The dispute resolution procedure of any TLD generally allow a person with a genuine prior legitimate interest to challenge the registration of a domain name if (very broadly) it was made in bad faith and with intent profit unfairly name and reputation of the objector. A successful challenge may only be made on certain closely defined grounds.

Case examples: two domain name complaints made by Steinway, the famous piano manufacturer, illustrate how such cases are dealt with.

See further: Steinway domain name cases.

Alternative dispute resolution procedures

There are other dispute resolution procedures operated by, for example, the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center.

The Courts

Although use of a TLD registry’s dispute resolution service may be a relatively quick and inexpensive means of resolving a domain name dispute in some cases, recourse to legal action in the Courts may be appropriate or essential in other cases. This is so particularly where the complainant requires a binding legal decision in complicated cases involving not only domain names, but also issues of trade mark infringement and/or ‘passing off’. In addition, the courts may grant remedies such as damages or injunctions which are not available in domain name dispute resolution services.

Case example: the leading case in the UK in this area is British Telecommunications Plc and others v One In A Million Ltd and others. The Plaintiffs in this case were Marks & Spencer Plc, J Sainsbury Plc, Virgin Enterprises Ltd, British Telecommunications Plc, Telecom Securior Cellular Radio Ltd and Ladbrokes Plc. The complaints arose from the registration of;;;; and and others.
See further: British Telecommunications Plc and others v One In A Million Ltd and others

What's new:

7/03/2012: Nominet dispute rules upheld by High Court
Toth v Emirates; Nominet intervening; [2012] EWHC 517 (Ch)
This High Court case was an appeal from a decision of the Patents County Court. The action concerned the Nominet UK dispute resolution procedure. Persons who register an internet domain name ending in “” agree to the Nominet terms and conditions including its dispute resolution procedure.

[Page updated: 03/07/2013]


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Domain names