Extending Your Trade Marks’ Protection Online
In addition to registering your trade mark with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (“CIPC”), brand owners should also ensure that their trade marks are protected online. One way of doing so, is by registering a domain name.
What is a domain name?
A domain name allows a party to establish its identity on the internet. It assists internet users to easily identify you on the internet and to access your site on the web. Domain names are arranged in a particular form, which includes top-level domains (“TLDs”) and generic-top level domains (“GTLDs”), for example .com, .org, .gov, .int and country code-top level domains (“ccTLDS”), namely .za, .us, .uk).
Why should you register a corresponding domain name for your registered trade mark?
If you are concerned about the use of your trade mark or trade marks in the form of a domain name by a third party, it is recommended that you apply for the registration of the corresponding domain name to protect your trade mark(s). In addition, registering a domain name will be less costly than trying to recover the domain name from a third party.
Registering your trade mark with a top-level domain
According to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (“ICANN”), “The New gTLD Program is an initiative coordinated by [ICANN], to enable the largest expansion of the domain name system. Via the introduction of new top-level domains (TLDs), the program aims to enhance innovation, competition and consumer choice.”
What does the release of new TLDs mean for trade mark holders?
A third party may register a domain name incorporating your trade mark and to guard against this, trade mark holders should consider protecting at least their important trade marks as and when the new TLDs are available. By doing so, trade mark holders will be proactively protecting their trade marks online.
Please note, a third party could have a registered their trade mark anywhere in the world that is identical or incorporates your trade mark, and consequently, coexists in the Trade Mark Clearing House (“TMCH”). This could happen where, for example, the identical or similar trade mark has registered for distinguishable goods and services and are not confusingly similar on the South African Trade Marks Register, or they could have protected their trade mark for the identical goods or services outside of South Africa, which is possible, given that trade marks only offer protection in the country or countries in which they have been registered. To limit a trade mark holder’s risk, it is best to apply for the verification of a trade mark(s) with the TMCH as soon as possible to ensure the trade mark(s) is verified before the new TLD is released.
The first step is registering the trade mark(s) with the TMCH for a period of one, three or five years. The longer the period of registration, the longer the period of protection with the TMCH. The TMCH is entrusted by ICANN to assist with the authentication, storage and dissemination of trade mark holder’s information. The TMCH validates a trade mark once it has been provided with the required information (discussed below). Thereafter, the TMCH will issue a signed mark data file which allows for the registration of a trade mark and its variations with a TLD, for example ens.africa, ens-africa.africa during the sunrise period (usually 30 days from release) of new TLDs.
The TMCH also assists with a trade mark claims service, which follows the sunrise period, and during this period (usually 90 days), notifications are sent to trade mark holders, informing them of potential domain name applications that match their verified trade mark(s), and similarly, notifies domain name applicants, so that both parties are aware of the possible infringement. If the domain name applicant proceeds to register the “infringing” domain name, the trade mark holder will be notified so that they can take action, if they so desire.
What is required to register a new TLD, for example, .africa, during the sunrise period?
.africa domain name
On 4 April 2017, the .africa TLD will launch and during the sunrise period, holders of verified trade marks (ie those who have registered their trade marks with the TMCH), will have an early opportunity to secure domain names matching their registered trade mark or trade marks. From 4 July 2017, the general availability phase will begin and the .africa domain name will then be allocated on a first-come, first-served basis.
ENSafrica is able to assist with the registration of domain names, the registration of trade marks with the TMCH and new TLDs, as well as a domain name audit which will allow you to cost effectively manage your domain names and provide you with sufficient online protection.
For more information, please contact:
Chavern Ismail, IP Senior Associate
cismail@ENSafrica.com +27 60 974 9662
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