Baltic Domain Days 2024: How to keep domain space safe and open?

Blog 25-06-2024

Last week I had the pleasure to attend and contribute to Baltic Domain Days, kindly hosted by DOMREG in Vilnius. Baltic Domain Days is an event that brings together the key domain name actors of the Baltic region and beyond, keeping a pulse on the trends that affect .lt, .lv and .ee registries and the overall domain name ecosystem in the Baltic states. This year's edition was hosted by .lt registry in the beautiful Old Town of Vilnius.

On Day 1, we zoomed into the impact of EU regulation on domain names, especially the increased regulatory attention to domain names within the intellectual property rights (IPR) protection online. It is a fascinating and complex topic on how to maintain balance between several legitimate interests (e.g., trademarks vs geographical indications) for a limited resource, such as a domain name, and the risks it may have on the openness of the internet infrastructure.

Together with experts from .lt, .lv, .ee, .eu and the State Patent Bureau of Lithuania, we tried to unpack this topic and shed light on how ccTLD registries are already contributing to the increased IPR protection online.

Some takeaways from the discussion:

  • Domain names are not IPR: There are important differences between protected IPR, such as a trademark and geographical indication (GI) on one hand, and a domain name on other hand. Trademarks for example can consist of graphical elements and colours, while geographical indications include a specific know-how that makes the GI unique and distinctive. Domain names are locations of a resource on the internet, a signpost that helps to navigate online. Domain names can contain IPR, either in its character string (e.g., microsoft.eu) or in connection to the associated services linked to the domain name, such as websites.

  • Existence of an IPR right can be a legitimate basis for owning a domain name: Holding an IPR is one of the legitimate bases for owning a domain name that contains IPR, however, it is not the decisive one. Since domain names are a limited resource and essential infrastructure, their registration is governed by an foundational principle of 'first come, first served'. Anyone  can register a domain name containing words and names that can include brands and geographical areas, either a business in a different sector or a local municipality, as there are other legitimate bases for registering a domain name beyond IPR. To balance different interests for a limited resource like a domain name, many ccTLDs have established alternative dispute resolutions (ADR) procedures that help with settling disputes over the ownership of domain names out of courts and in shorter deadlines. All Baltic ccTLDs have respective ADR procedures in place, with .lv being the latest addition to the ADR-offering ccTLDs family. 

  • Collaboration with IPR experts and authorities helps keep the balance right: ccTLD registries are experts in keeping essential infrastructure up and running, in a safe and secure manner. IPR experts within public authorities help with identifying issues online and take the role of a watchdog. It is the role of public authorities to monitor issues and flag them to the operators. .ee’s collaboration with the business register, .lt’s mediation procedure with the the State Patent Bureau, as well as a long-standing voluntary cooperation between .eu and the EUIPO for increased trademark protection online show that there is a way for IPR experts and ccTLD registries to collaborate on increased IPR protection online, taking into account local and national needs, legal frameworks and specificities of ccTLDs.

With increased regulatory pressure on DNS, including in IPR protection, it is important to maintain the availability and neutrality of the essential internet infrastructure like domain names. Due diligence by both IPR holders and technical operators, increased cooperation and openness to share experiences and expertise with each other, will offer counterbalance to regulatory initiatives that often pose more questions than provide answers.

For these reasons, we are hopeful that the transposition of the recently concluded GI reform, that has an unprecedented attention towards the domain name registration process in a form of a “domain name information and alert system”, will take into account the existing processes and procedures in place that already contribute to the increased IPR protection across European ccTLDs, without the need to significantly disrupt existing good practices. As all of the experts from .lt, .lv, .ee and .eu confirmed, the disputes over domain names with GIs in their respective ccTLDs are rare. This shows the lack of a significant problem that needs to be solved both at a technical and regulatory level. Both ccTLD and IPR experts agree that increased awareness-raising activities are merited instead, to educate potential IPR holders of their rights online.

Published By Polina Malaja
Polina Malaja is the Policy Director at CENTR, leading its policy work and liaising with governments, institutions and other organisations in the internet ecosystem.