THE REALM OF DOMAIN NAMES

Sanchita Bera

Introduction

In the field of science and technology, the advent of the computer was seen as the most revere gift. The tremendous use of computers opened new gates for the development of communications through the internet. In the early 1990s, people used the internet to exchange emails and collect information, but as time passed not just for communications, but for buying products and availing services through e-commerce. With the growth of e-commerce, more and more important businesses are using the internet as a tool to promote their brands. In the real world, these businesses are using trademarks to promote, protect and expand their brands, but what about the same in the virtual world? Here comes into play the ‘internet domain name’. With the changing times and the models of business, the internet domain names, have grown from merely serving as the face of the website belonging to important businesses, to helping people identify the status, and give recognition to the business identifiers and promoters.

Meaning of Domain Name

A domain name is a word or alphabet-based substitute to the numeric IP addresses[1]. But why do we use the domain name instead of IP addresses? Because One, IP addresses are numerical in nature, as they are expressed through a long sequence of digits[2] and Two, the IP addresses are not catchy in nature and also one cannot remember the string of numbers, which will result in mistakes while typing the same. For example, the domain name ‘search.msn.co.in’ would be deciphered by the server as ‘207.46.176.53’ as the IP address. So, these domain names are the addresses of their respective owners in the world of the internet, just like a person’s home or business address.

What is an Internet Domain Name System?

The Internet Domain Name System (DNS) is the internet’s hierarchical address system that helps users find their targeted web pages. That is, DNS works like a telephone directory in the world of the internet. For example, we can simply type ‘icann.org’ instead of typing ‘192.0.32.7’, here ‘icann’ is the domain name of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) Organization.

Second-Level Domain Name

Levels of Domain Names

www.meetings.icann.org

First or Top-Level Domain Name
Third-Level Domain Name

 

What is First or Top-Level Domain Name

The First or Top-Level Domain Name can be further divided into two types:

  1. Generic First or Top-Level Domain Name (gTLD): these domain names impart information regarding the type or the nature of the organization of which the domain name represents. For example, .com stands for commercial, which means the domain name represents a commercial business, .edu stands for education, which means the domain name represents the educational institution and the list goes on.
  2. Country-code First or Top-Level Domain Name (ccTLD): these domain names identify the country or region of the domain name holder or locate the organization of the domain name holder. For example, .uk stands for the United Kingdom, .in stands for India, .fr stands for France.

What is Second and Third Level Domain Name?

The second and third-level domain names are termed sub-domain names. Business entities or organizations choose their virtual trademark as their second-level domain name, to create their identity on the internet, and achieve greater publicity, popularity, and profitability in their businesses.

Domain Name Structure

www.library.nls.uk.edu 

Here,

  • “.edu” is the Generic Top Level Domain Name: means the organization is an educational institute or related to education
  • “.uk” is the Country-code Top Level Domain Name: means the organization is situated in United Kingdoms
  • “.nls” is the Second-Level Domain Name: means the organization’s domain name is ‘nls’
  • “.library” is the Third Level Domain Name: the website will open directly into the library of ‘nls’

Where can we register the Domain Names?

No national or international trademark statute can in full capacity protect and register the domain names. Therefore, to fulfill this objective, the ICANN with the backing of WIPO (World Intellectual Property Organization) has gauzed two strong and strict systems:

  1.  A meticulous and censorious system for the registration of domain names with accredited registrars by ICANN and,
  2. 2. Systematic and efficacious dispute resolution policy, under the banner of UDNDR (Uniform Domain Name Disputes Resolution Policy). The UDNDR allows aggrieved persons to challenge the abusive use or unauthorized registration of Generic Top-Level Domain Name, which is faster and even less expensive than ordinary litigation. Interested persons can register their domain names with the ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). The interested persons have to apply to the ‘registrar’, a list appears in the ‘registrar directory’ on the website of ICANN. The applicant can choose the registrar, who is located in their country. The registrar then asks for relevant contact and other technical information required for registration. In this continuing process, the registrar submits the given information to the ‘central directory’ that is ‘registry’. After a thorough examination, the registry sends the registration contract along with terms and conditions of the domain name used to the applicant. The applicant will enter into the contract with the registrar. After the contract comes into force, the said applicant will become the holder of the domain name. The domain name registration cost may go from Rs. 662.11 to Rs. 1102.79, the registration fees depends on the registrar and the country[3]. The period of renewal of domain name depends upon the applicant, i.e. at the time of application, the applicant can choose to register the domain name for 1 year to a maximum of 10 years[4].

Can Domain Name be registered and protected under the Indian Trademark Act?

YES! Domain Names can be both registered and protected under the Trademarks Act, 1999. But, for this, the domain name has to satisfy the conditions portrayed for a mark (according to the Trademark statute name can be called as a mark) to be termed and recognized as a trademark. The following are the conditions:

  1. The domain name must be unambiguously unique in the world from all the existing domain names or trademarks on the internet. 
  2. The domain name must be capable to identify and distinguish the goods and services of an organization from that of others.
  3. It must act as a reliable source for its holder, and connect such holder to the goods or services displayed on the internet[5].

The squabble between Domain Name and Trademark

The domain names can be used in place of trademarks on the virtual platforms provided by the internet, or there are chances that the companies can include their trademarks into their domain names, because such inclusion will work as an identifier of the respective company in the virtual world, also the consumers of the company’s products or services can easily identify the company from the domain name. But due to this well-accepted link between domain name and trademark, certain conflicts are bound to rise, the most common one is the dispute between the rights of the domain name holder and the trademark holder because, in today’s world, the domain name has become an identity of both the corporates and individuals on the internet, this self-supporting role of the domain name sometimes comes in strife with the trademark. Also, both domain names and trademarks plys in two different fields. The former operates in the virtual world, while the latter operates in the real world. Adding to this, trademarks are restricted to national or to some extent multi-national level, while domain names can be both registered and protected globally. These differences often raise conflicts and overlapping of interests between the stakeholder of the domain name and the trademarks. Lastly, there is no connection between the registrations of the domain name and trademark. Supposedly, if someone wants to register a name as a domain name that is already registered as a trademark, there is no system to check the same, even ICANN has no such system. Also, unlike trademark registration, which requires prior publication before registering, there is no such publication requirement in the registration of domain name. The UDNDR is less expensive than ordinary litigation, but it provides the remedy of recovery in a challenge against domain name infringement, and no other damages are available[6].

Therefore, efforts must be made at both national and international levels, to reduce the brute between the Domain Name and Trademark. At the national level, the creation of new cyber laws which can be merged with the traditional or existing trademark laws should be thought of. When registering domain names and trademarks both, they should design a system of checks that is, publication, and call for raising objections from the public. At the international level, the WIPO should create a system of registering trademarks to a global extent, just like the PCT (Patent Cooperation Treaty).


[1] Michael Chissick and Alistair Kelman, Electronic Commerce: Law and Practice 17 (London: Sweet & Maxwell, 1999)

[2] Parul Kumar, Domain Name Disputes and Cyber Squatting: Can Arbitration Suffice as a Way of Resolution? http://www.students.indlaw.com/display.aspx?4314 (Last Visited on May 13, 2021)

[3] Cost of Domain Name Registration, https://www.google.co.in/search?q=cost+for+registering+domain+name&authuser=0&bih=625&biw=1366&hl=en&sxsrf=ALeKk03jZShwANNQmK1o4C5O1RrTLE1V_Q%3A1620890820942&ei=xNScYOqMOaLnz7sPm9ebgAk&oq=fees+for+registering+domain&gs_lcp=Cgdnd3Mtd2l6EAEYADIGCAAQFhAeOgcIIxDqAhAnOgQIIxAnOggIABCxAxCDAToECAAQQzoFCC4QsQM6BQgAELEDOgQILhAnOgUIABCRAjoHCAAQsQMQQzoKCAAQhwIQsQMQFDoCCAA6BQgAEMkDOgcIABCHAhAUOgQIABANOgcIABDJAxANOggIIRAWEB0QHlDmEVjWS2DDXWgCcAJ4AIAB6wGIAegnkgEGMC4yNS40mAEAoAEBqgEHZ3dzLXdperABCsABAQ&sclient=gws-wiz (Last Visited on May 13, 2021)

[4] ICANN, https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/domain-name-renewal-expiration-faqs-2018-12-07-en (Last Visited on May 13, 2021)

[5] Protection of Domain Name as a Trademark, https://www.mondaq.com/india/trademark/327272/protection-of-domain-name-as-a-trademark, (Visited on May 13, 2021)

[6] Brian J. Winterfeldt and Diana Moltrup, “Brand Protection on the Internet: Domain Names, Social Media, and Beyond” 24 ITA (2015)

This article is published by Sanchita Bera, pursuing LLM at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. Presently working as a contributing author at the The Blue Letters.

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