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.EU Domain Name – UK owners are a casualty of Brexit

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This blog has been updated following the issue of recent guidance on the timescales for the withdrawal of .eu domain names.

As we get closer to 29 March 2019, or "B Day", more and more unanticipated consequences of the leave vote for businesses are rearing their heads. The issue on how EU trade marks, which currently provide protection in the UK, will cover the UK after B Day and what brand owners should do about this now, has been identified for some time. We have a good degree of certainty on this and we're working hard with brand owners to give them the best possible protection.

One issue which has been identified more recently is the ramification of the leave vote on the .eu domain name. Many UK businesses use a .eu domain name for their main or only website. However, after B Day, many will no longer be able to do so. If steps are not put in place now, these businesses could find themselves without any online presence. In today's internet-driven world, this would be catastrophic.

Under the rules establishing the .eu domain name system, only companies who have their registered office, central administration, principal place of business, or who are established in the EU (by, for example, having a branch office in an EU member state), can be the registrant of .eu domain names. EURid (the EU registry operator) has now set out a timetable for the removal of .eu domain names from companies who do not comply with this in the event of a no-deal Brexit, summarised below.

23 March 2019 - registrants of .eu domains will be notified by EURid that their domain name will become non-compliant under the rules establishing the .eu domain name system;

29 March 2019 - Brexit;

30 March 2019 - EURid will send a second notification informing registrants of non-compliance and allowing registrants to update their contact data to prove compliance (e.g. updating residence or otherwise indicating a legally established entity in one of the eligible EU27 or EEA Member States). There is now a two-month period, starting at 00:00:00 CET on 30 March 2019 to action these changes. During this time, a non-compliant registrant will not be allowed to register new .eu domains, renew existing registrations, or extend term extensions (unless as part of a transfer to an eligible registrant). During this time, the domain in issue will remain active;

30 May 2019 -  all registrants who did not show eligibility are now deemed ineligible to own .eu domains and these domains will be withdrawn. This will mean that the website hosted on it and any email accounts associated with it will cease to function. Registrants will now have a final twelve months to reactivate them if the eligibility criteria can be satisfied.; and

30 March 2020 - the withdrawn domain names will now be revoked, and will become available for general registration.

If a deal is reached and we enter a transition period, the timescale above will run from the end of that transition period. However, given the current risk of a no-deal Brexit, businesses affected by this would be advised to seek alternative domain names now, such as those with .com or .co.uk endings, and taking steps to transition their website users to the new web addresses. Once a domain name is withdrawn, businesses will no longer be able to redirect website users to their new website, so valuable business may be lost. Further, as email addresses are generally linked to a business's domain name, emails sent to the .eu email addresses will also be undelivered. It is hard to estimate the damage that could be caused to a business who is not prepared for this.

Our 9-strong Intellectual Property Team at Clarion are advising a huge number of businesses about the wide-ranging consequences of Brexit, be it brand protection, design registrations, patents or .eu domain names.

If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact Esther Kirwan, Partner in the Intellectual Property Team.

Disclaimer: Anything posted on this blog is for general information only and is not intended to provide legal advice on any general or specific matter. Please refer to our terms and conditions for further information. Please contact the author of the blog if you would like to discuss the issues raised.