.au direct is an exciting internet domain innovation that is set to augment the suite of Australian namespaces currently on offer, delivering wider choice for business owners.
.au direct names are domain names that precede the .au directly (for example, myname.au), rather than those names that are followed by .com.au, .net.au or .org.au. Not only will this new option open up naming choice for Australian businesses, it will also enable business owners to register shorter names, which may be considered more desirable and appealing in the online setting. The change also brings Australia into line with other key jurisdictions including the United Kingdom (.uk), Canada (.ca), the USA (.us), and New Zealand (.nz).
This domain name transformation is well-supported by businesses in Australia, and is the result of widespread public consultation undertaken throughout 2015, 2018, and 2019. The scheme is set to launch in Australia on 24 March 2022, and will operate in much the same way as existing namespaces.
To qualify for a .au direct name, you must have a demonstrated “Australian presence”. The complete description of what is considered Australian presence is outlined in the definitions section of the .au Licensing Rules, and includes holding Australian citizenship or having permanent residency, or having a company registered in Australia.
Once the scheme is launched, for a period of six months, you can apply to register any direct .au name that is not already registered in any existing namespaces. Once the six-month period completes in 2022, you will also be eligible to apply for names that do exist in other namespaces.
If you are the owner of an existing domain name, for a period of six months from the launch date in March, you can also apply to register an exact match name, subject to the Priority Allocation Process.
In contrast to existing namespaces (for example .com.au or org.au), there are no allocation requirements to determine eligibility of a .au direct name. So, if you satisfy the Australian presence criteria, you can simply proceed to register your .au direct name through an auDA accredited registrar. The process is conditional only upon auDA’s Licensing Rules, and the Priority Allocation Process.
Broadly, the rules around naming are not onerous, and you will be able to register a name if it is:
- consistent with syntax criteria
- not on the Reserved Names list (outlined in the Licensing Rules)
Priority Allocation Process
Current holders of a .au domain name will receive an advance opportunity to apply for “Priority Status” to register the precise match of their existing domain name. Exact matches of each domain name currently in the Australian register will be held in reserve for .au direct registration for the Priority Application Period (a period of six months from 24 March 2022). Throughout this phase, eligible holders of .au domain names of any namespace can apply for Priority Status, while other parties will be prevented from registering the .au direct name.
For example, the owner of “myname.com.au” will have a period of six months to register “myname.au”, before others can apply for that .au direct name.
If you are presently the owner of a .au domain name, your registrar will contact you to inform you about these changes, and to advise you on the process for applying for the exact match of any .au names you already possess licences for in other namespaces.
There will be no general ability to “pre-purchase” a .au direct name ahead of the March launch. However, .au direct names are to be licensed through auDA accredited registrars who are free to offer an “expression of interest” facility if they choose.
If you would like to pursue this option, you should contact a range of registrars to find out who is offering this service, and also to get a clear understanding of the full range of prices being charged.
However, because this process is not overseen by auDA, you do need to keep in mind that submitting an expression of interest is not a guarantee that you will ultimately obtain your desired .au direct name.
Process for multiple eligible applicants for Priority Status
While not a widespread occurrence, there will be instances where there is more than one eligible applicant for the same .au direct name. For example, you may own a particular .com.au domain name, while another party owns the same name with the .net.au namespace. In these circumstances, both parties can apply for Priority Status.
Where this occurs, the creation date of your domain name will help to determine who receives Priority Status. If you would like to find out more about Priority Allocations, or get an idea of potential competition for your desired .au direct name from other eligible domain name owners, you can use the Priority Status Tool.
What happens to my existing domain name if I register a .au direct name?
The system governing existing namespaces will not be impacted by the addition of .au direct names. You will be free to register, use and renew yours in exactly the same way that you always have.
Protecting your domain name
It is not uncommon for domain names to be misused by “cybersquatters” or imitators, who in bad faith register a domain in the name of an existing company or trade mark for financial benefit. For example, a trade mark owner may own the ‘.com.au’ domain for a particular name, while a domain name squatter might register the same name with an alternative extension, for example, ‘.com’, or ‘.net.au’. This practice is designed to direct customers away from your website to a fake one, to buy products they hadn’t intended to buy, or for other dishonest purposes.
A similar type of ‘virtual trespassing’ can also occur when an existing domain name is slightly misspelled by the virtual squatter. In this case, ‘typosquatters’ purchase URLs that are deceptively similar to those of existing, well-known brands. This allows the counterfeiter to trade on the names of successful brands, or to direct potential customers to malicious content.
With the introduction of the new .au direct domain name space, many are predicting an increase in cyber imitation issues, and consequent dispute resolution, administrative proceedings and litigation. At Platform IP, our team has detailed technical and legal expertise to provide strategic advice on conflicts between trade marks and domain names, so that you can keep your brand safe from infringers, and ensure that you don’t infringe either the IP rights of others, or any consumer protection laws.
Many disputes involving digital impersonators are resolved through the Uniform Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP), or the corresponding Australian Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy (auDRP). We provide clear, concise and strategic advice for resolving these disputes, as well as for lodging complaints under both UDRP and auDRP.
.au Dispute Resolution Policy
Established by the .au Domain Administration, the .au Dispute Resolution Policy is used for arbitrating cybersquatting cases involving .au domains. The policy delivers a faster and more cost-effective alternative to litigation.
auDRP – Elements of a Complaint
The auDRP is an administrative proceeding in which the complainant carries the burden of proof in establishing their grounds. Although proceedings can be complex and turn on individual circumstances, generally a complainant’s grounds for obtaining a proceeding under the auDRP will be established when:
- The respondent’s domain name is the same, or confusingly similar to a name, trade mark or service that the complainant has rights to
- The respondent has no rights or legitimate interests to the domain name
The significance of domain names in intellectual property
Domain names are an important element of your organisation’s IP matrix.
A registered domain name can function as a trade mark if it distinguishes the source of the particular goods or services from other traders. It can also be utilised to establish first or prior use of a trade mark, which can then be used to support a claim to ownership of the related trade mark.
However, a domain name does not deliver an overarching right to register that name as a trade mark. Similarly, neither a business or company name, nor ownership of a registered trade mark creates a right to the corresponding domain name ahead of other traders.
Registration of a domain name also does not establish complete rights to the name. for this reason, registering a domain name does not confer ownership rights to the name generally. Parties applying for registration are responsible for ensuring that they themselves are eligible to use the domain name. They then use the domain name for a specified time, in accordance with terms and conditions.
A domain name can be revoked via the .au Dispute Resolution Policy, where there has been a trade mark infringement. However, if the domain name has not been used in the course of trade, infringement is unlikely to be made out. In addition, you may not be able to prevent another party from using your chosen domain name, even where that name is the same as your trade mark, if the goods or services in question are not the same or closely related. However, there may be an opportunity to sue under misleading and deceptive conduct provisions in the Australian Consumer Law, or, in certain circumstances, to bring a common law action for passing off.
At Platform IP we provide strategic advice on domain names so that you can keep your brand safe. Call us now to speak to an expert.