Australian domain name ownership rules are changing



Australian domain name ownership rules change from April 12, 2021. This will affect businesses that currently own .com.au or .net.au domain names, and those that wish to register them.

Currently, you can only own .com.au or .net.au domain names if you:

  • are a relevant Australian company, or
  • meet other criteria such as having a relevant brand.

If you are a relevant Australian business, you don’t have to worry too much. For you, the rules don’t change drastically.

However, if you are relying on a brand to own any of the above domain names, things may have gotten a lot more complicated for you. Previously, the mark you relied on simply had to be “an exact match, abbreviation or acronym of the mark”. From April 12, 2021, this must be an “exact match”.

For example, under the old rules, a trademark for AJ PARK would allow you to register one of the following domain names:

  • ajpark.com.au (exact match)
  • ajparklaw.com.au (abbreviation)
  • ajp.com.au (acronym).

Under the new rules, only the first example (ajpark.com.au) can be registered on the basis of the AJ Park trademark, which means that the second and third examples are invalid and would not be registrable or would lapse if they were already registered.

While the phrase “exact match” sounds simple, it is slightly broader than you would expect. There are a few differences that can be allowed, but not many. “Exact match” is defined in the new rules as follows:

“The domain name requested is identical to the words which are the subject of an Australian trademark. The domain name must include all words in the order in which they appear in the Australian brand, excluding DNS identifiers (such as com.au); punctuation marks (such as an exclamation point or apostrophe); articles (such as “a”, “the”, “and” or “of”); and ampersands.

If you own .com.au or .net.au domain names, you should urgently consider:

  1. if you follow the new rules, and
  2. what strategy is best for you to keep your domain names.

Some options to consider include:

  • the filing of a new trademark “corresponding exactly” to the domain name,
  • register as an Australian company,
  • transfer the domain name to an Australian company that you control,
  • renew your domain name earlier to save more time (the new rules will trigger a validity review of the existing domain name only when you renew or transfer the domain), or
  • change the domain name you are using (that is, do not use .com.au or .net.au).

The new rules come into effect on April 12, 2021, so you have a short window to act.


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