Domain name registrations fall as dot.com blues deepen

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The Independent Online

The growth in the number of internet domain name registrations finally looks to be on the wane. Recent figures from Nominet.uk, the domain name registration group, show a sharp fall in the number of UK registrations in May, following a similar steep fall in April. The figures show that a total of 151,248 new domain names were registered in May compared with 190,907 in April. Registrations peaked in March when 245,967 new domain names were recorded.

The growth in the number of internet domain name registrations finally looks to be on the wane. Recent figures from Nominet.uk, the domain name registration group, show a sharp fall in the number of UK registrations in May, following a similar steep fall in April. The figures show that a total of 151,248 new domain names were registered in May compared with 190,907 in April. Registrations peaked in March when 245,967 new domain names were recorded.

There could be a number of reasons for the fall. One is that many of the most obvious names have already been taken.

Another factor is the fall in internet stock market valuations since the peak in March. The deflation of the technology investment bubble means the flood of start-ups has been dammed.

But there could be other reasons for the fall. One is that Nominet only registers domain names that end with the dot.uk suffix. As the dot.com suffix gains increasing dominance over other styles due to its more international appeal, the attractions of dot.co.uk or dot.net.cuk names are waning.

Legal firms report a surge in the number of corporate clients seeking to transfer their original dot.co.uk name to the dot.com version. Tesco recently did this to operate its Tesco online shopping service as Tesco.com. But other firms have encountered problems, finding the dot.com version of their name has already been taken.

A further reason for the decline in registrations could be the legal crackdown on cybersquatting, where an individual or company deliberately registers a domain name with the view to selling it on at a profit.

One case settled last Friday saw a British company ordered to hand over ownership of two web sites using the name of the Nasdaq stock market. Deltacross, based on the Isle of Man, was ordered to return the domain names nasdaqeurope.com and nasdaqeurope.net to the Nasdaq market in the United States. In Europe, Nasdaq is currently using the rather cumbersome address nasdaq-euromarket.com.

Eversheds, the legal firm, set up a new service dotcomresolution.com to give legal advice to start-ups on domain name registrations. But it has found itself inundated with work coming from blue chip clients seeking to settle disputes on domain name ownership.

According to Ian DeFreitas, a partner in intellectual property at Paisner, the City law firm, the law is firmly on the side of the holder of the legal trademark rights rather than the owner of the domain name. There was a landmark case in this area two years ago when a company called One in a Million was ordered to hand over the domain names virgin.co.uk, burgerking.co.uk and marksandspencer.co.uk. The company had tried to sell the names to the companies for £25,000 each.

However, the law is not so clear on the registration of generic names. Anthony Gold, head of contentious intellectual property at Eversheds' Manchester office, points out that most businesses want a domain name that corresponds with their trading name. This will almost certainly be registered as a trademark, making it much easier to protect from the practice of "passing off", when a rival attempts to pass itself off as another organisation.

Generic domain names might be hard to defend. Names like condom.com, detergent.com and even diarrhoea.com have been registered. Kingfisher, the B&Q retailer, has registered the names diy.com and trade.co.uk. But lawyers say that if a rival registers a similar name, Kingfisher might find it difficult to claim the rival is passing itself off as Kingfisher or B&Q. The case would rest on whether Kingfisher had established goodwill and a reputation via the site.

Bullet bitten

More problems in dot.com land. The-bullet.com, an online information service aimed at the media sector, has ceased operations and laid off staff. Visitors to the site late last week were given the message: "The-bullet.com will not be updated for the time being while the company restructures. A new, improved service will go live later this year." The-bullet.com was set up in May last year with only had a handful of staff and no big name backers. Jo Monroe, co-founder, said the company was looking to bring in partners and expand.

The-bullet, which styles itself as "ammunition for new media people", has been offering news and gossip for the TV, new media and publishing industries. But it is not the first community site to hit problems. Netimperative, a site aimed at the internet industry, had to be rescued from receivership. And several US content sites such as Salon.com, APBNews and Digital Entertainment have all made major cutbacks. The problems are similar in most cases. Web sites aiming to survive mainly through the sale of banner advertising in crowded markets are finding the revenues woefully insufficient.

Jargonbusters

You've had B2C (business to consumer) and B2B (business to business). Now try B2B2B. This is a new piece of e-speak conjured up but those interesting people at Invensys, the former BTR-Siebe business. What does it mean? It is Invensys's way of explaining an online link between a manufacturing worker on the factory floor, his customers and his suppliers. B2B with knobs on, then.

P2P: Path to profitability - the new mantra of the dot.com. As opposed to P2B (path to bankruptcy).

n.cope@independent.co.uk

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