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What’s in a Domain Name?

The internet is becoming increasingly important to small business. You need to protect your domain name and be certain, before you open up for cyber business, that you’re entitled to use it.

Australian businesses are moving into the change and technology-driven world of e-commerce and the internet. According to the latest Sensis e-Business Report, around 45 percent of small to medium businesses are selling over the internet.

The cornerstone of your website is your domain name, which is essentially your online identity or brand. Each website has its own distinct domain name allowing it to be distinguishable from other sites—for example, www.yourbusiness.com.au

Effective use of your domain name is important in promoting your products or services. For the most part, domain names are easy to remember because they are usually made up of a business name and a commonly understood term or category, including ‘.com’, ‘.gov’, and ‘.org’.

Registering a particular business or company name does not automatically entitle you to the same name as either a domain name or a trade mark. Nor does it give you more right to a domain name than anyone else. In fact, business, company and domain names are often best protected when they are also registered as trademarks. Since each system is separate, you will need to search all relevant databases to ensure you achieve the desired combination of name, trade mark and domain name.

Registering your domain name ensures you have the exclusive right to use that name for the duration of the licence period, but there are no proprietary rights, which means you do not ‘own’ your domain name. Rather, it is first-come, first-served where you have a licence to use the domain name for a specified period of time and are subject to the licence terms and conditions.

Registering a domain name can also help to guard against cyber squatting. This is the act of another person registering a domain name with no intention of using it, but who intends to make a profit by selling the domain name to an entity which already uses it as a business name or trade mark.

A growing trend in this area is defensive registration. Here you can register a series of similar domain names to restrict other traders and cyber squatters from operating websites using domain names that could be confused with your business. For example, you might choose to register both www.yourbusiness.com.au and www.yourbusiness.biz even though you only plan to use one.

You can choose whether to register a country extension with your domain or not (for example ‘.au’ for Australia). Businesses operating on a global basis are increasingly choosing to register their domain names without indicating their country of origin. All domain names have equal visibility on the internet, regardless of whether the address displays a country code.

The Three Rs

• Registry—the registry holds the database of domain names and operates the name servers that
make the domain names visible on the internet.

• Registrar—a registrar decides whether your domain name application meets the policy rules, issues domain name licences and processes renewals. Registrars in the ‘.au’ domain are accredited and licensed by auDA (.au Domain Administration).

• Resellers—some registrars use resellers to provide customer sales and support. Resellers do not have direct access to the registry and must process registrations and renewals through their registrar. Resellers are not accredited or licensed by auDA.

The registration cost varies depending on your selected type of domain and the registration period and can start from around $60 for a two-year licence in the ‘.com.au’ domain. To confirm current fees in the ‘.au’ domain visit www.auda.org.au

There are 11 registrars and around 250 resellers who charge different prices, so shop around. Some resellers also bundle additional services such as website design and hosting.

The ‘.au’ domain names are licensed for a two-year period. In global domain names (where there is no country extension), the licence period is one year and ‘.com.au’ domain names can be renewed at the end of each two-year licence period. If you fail to renew, then the licence will be cancelled and the domain name will become available for registration by someone else, which could leave your business susceptible to cyber squatters. Once you have lost your domain name, you can’t get it back unless it becomes available again.

In Australia you can now consolidate your domain names through one registrar, regardless of where you initially registered your domains. This can help streamline your renewal process and allow you to effectively manage your internet activities. Some registrars provide a service where you can be notified if your preferred domain name becomes available.

Naming Rights

Trademarks can still be infringed in cyberspace. Trademark owners have an exclusive legal right to use, license or sell their mark in the country (or countries) in which it has been registered. Without carefully searching existing trademark databases, you could unintentionally infringe an existing trademark. It is up to the domain name applicant to make sure they are not violating anyone else’s trademark.

A domain name can function as a trademark in terms of identifying and distinguishing particular goods and services from those of other traders. However, you should keep in mind that registering a domain name does not automatically give you the right to register that name as a trademark.

Domain name applicants are responsible for ensuring they have due title to use a particular name. The act of lodging a request for domain name registration asserts such a claim. However, if you intend to trade mark your business/domain name, you should search both the trade marks register and domain name listings to ensure your proposed name is available for registration as both a trade mark and domain name and will not be subject to opposition based on a domain name or trade mark proprietor’s evidence of prior use.

By using a domain name that is identical to, or deceptively similar to a registered trademark, there is a risk of trade mark infringement, particularly if the name relates to the same or similar goods or services covered by the trade mark registration.

Careful planning and thorough searching can help protect your business name and brands on the internet, and also ensure that you don’t unintentionally infringe the rights of others. You can search for trade marks and business names yourself using a range of databases available on the internet. Trademark attorneys and searching companies also offer affordable searching services for business.

Your first step is to check the status of existing domain names and find out whether your preferred name is available for registration by using the public WHOIS services. Anyone can register an internet domain name in the ‘.au’ domain by submitting a registration form to an auDA accredited registrar or one of their appointed resellers. There is no restriction on the number of domain names licensed by a registrant.

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Help Desk

• Trade marks: visit the IP Australia website www.ipaustralia.gov.au

• Domain names: Choose your preferred registrar and follow their application process. For a list of ‘.au’ registrars, visit www.auda.org.au/regis
To search for ‘.au’ domain names, go to AusRegistry’s WHOIS Service at www.ausregistry.com.au

• Staking Your Claim On The Web: a business guide to registering a web address: www2.dcita.gov.au/ie/publications/2003/03/staking_claim

• Sensis e-Business Report: www.about.sensis.com.au/knowledge/research.php

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