Is a domain squatter set to steal your brand?

It’s fair to say that many businesses are unprepared for the new .uk Internet domain - which is unfortunate, as from June 2019, they could find that their branding and name has been registered on it by a third party, leaving them with little redress.

Promoted as a shorter and more genuinely local replacement for the domain that many businesses use, it’s intended to be the UK equivalent of [say] Germany’s .de domain, and France’s .fr domain. To be eligible to use the new .uk domain, businesses must supply an ‘address for service’ within the UK. Moreover, this must be a physical address, rather than a PO Box.

In other words, the .uk domain is intended for genuine UK businesses - rather than businesses which may want to appear to be UK-based, but which are actually foreign.

And in the Internet era, there’s a lot to like about anything that helps to build trust.

The clock is ticking

When the new domain was created back in 2014, businesses using the existing domain were given automatic exclusivity rights to register under the new .uk domain. The problem is that those rights lapse after five years.

In other words, the holders of [say] have five years to register the domain, after which those automatic rights lapse.

At which point, someone else can claim the rights to, simply by paying the relevant fee.

The dangers are obvious - so if you haven’t yet registered your .uk domain, and you think that your business ought to do so, then 10 June 2019 is a date to diarise. After that, it could be too late: someone else could grab it.

Brand awareness

There’s a broader issue here, though.

Time and again, here at The Legal Director we find that businesses are exposed when it comes to brand protection issues.

Quite simply, they’re not doing what they should be doing in order to protect some of their biggest assets—their name, their brands, and their intellectual property.

It’s not enough to assume that theft and misappropriation won’t happen: it does happen. Quite recently, when we mentioned to a client the importance of proactive brand protection, an impromptu search by one of the client’s administrative assistants quickly found an almost identically-named business 30 miles away, carrying out a very similar line of business.

Basic mistakes

We’ve blogged before - here, for instance - about the importance of trade marks. And the message is always the same: many businesses make basic mistakes when it comes to trade marks.

  • They use trade marks that can’t be registered. It is important to avoid trade marks that are either descriptive of, or related to, the product or service that you’re trade marking.
  • They fail to register - or renew - trade marks everywhere that they trade. Remember, trade marks registrations must be renewed every ten years, and that in many countries, the right to sue in respect of ‘passing-off’ simply doesn't exist.
  • They fail to protect their trade marks. Always attach the '®' symbol to the trade mark, everywhere the trade mark is used - it is actually formally part of the trade mark, and must be used as such. And act promptly to exercise your trade mark rights, immediately that you become aware of possible infringement - otherwise you may be deemed in law to have consented.

 Brand protection: the bottom line

A business’s brand is one of its biggest assets. And in the Internet era, that brand is even more important.

So if you weren’t aware of the new .uk domain, and of the importance of the 10 June 2019 deadline, it might be time to think through what you want to do.

Likewise, it could also be time to take a look at your existing strategies for protecting your business’s brands. Here at The Legal Director, we routinely provide cost-effective guidance on brand registration and protection - as well as cost-effectively and pragmatically helping clients to deal with any infringements.

To start the conversation, please get in touch on 020 3053 8613.

Posted Tuesday, December 5th, 2017 by Warren Ryland



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