There are over 12 million .uk domain names, but the number of disputed domains continues to be a tiny proportion of registrations. In 2017, there were 712 complaints relating to 783 domains, which represents just 0.0065% of the domain names on the register. Over half of the complaints (55%) resulted in a transfer to the complainant. By comparison, there were 703 complaints in 2016, 53% of which resulted in a domain transfer.
While the numbers are tiny, there may still be significant costs involved. A domain name registered that appears similar to a brand can have reputational damages. Customers can unwittingly go to a website with a familiar looking domain name thinking they’re dealing with a more familiar company. One such case in 2017 that Nominet ruled on was for victoriasecretbeauty.co.uk.
Victoria’s Secret, an American designer and manufacturer of women’s lingerie and beauty products, complained. The Respondent was a beauty therapist operating a salon in Mayfair, London who claimed not to have known about the Victoria’s Secret brand at the time when they registered the domain name. In the view of the Expert, “this is not a credible claim, particularly taking into account that the Respondent operates in field of beauty services”. The domain name was transferred.
Brands such as Jaguar Land Rover, Clydesdale Bank Plc, Virgin Enterprises Limited, Moncler S.p.A., “Dr. Martens” International Trading GmbH and the Sony Corporation used the DRS in 2017.
The most common industries to use the DRS were Automotive (9), Electronics and Fashion (8 respectively), Retail (7) and Banking and Finance (6). There were complainants from 29 different countries, led by the UK (553) followed by the US (42), Germany (27) and France (20). Respondents came from 34 different countries. Again, the UK leads with 598 respondents, with the US second (17) and China third with 15.
2017 also saw an increase to 15% in the number of disputes resolved with the domain name being voluntarily transferred to the Complainant by the Respondent upon receipt of the complaint. In 2016, 10% of complaints were resolved in this way.
There are also concerns that dispute numbers could rise even more. Following the introduction of second level registrations, there was a Right of Registration for most pre-existing .co.uk Registrants over the corresponding .uk domain name. This comes to an end on 10 June 2019. Nominet advises that .co.uk registrants, including brand owners, to consider registering their second level equivalents.
“In the next two years this could lead to a further increase in the number of .uk domain names being subject to disputes as more and more potentially desirable names are made available to be registered on a first-come first-served basis,” said Nick Wenban-Smith, General Counsel at Nominet. “To avoid such a dispute, it’s important for .co.uk owners to review their options and act sooner rather than later.”