Following public consultation which closed on 30th September 2017, the IEDR, the body responsible for registration and related services of all .ie domain names, will be liberalising the application process effective from March 2018.

The consultation showed strong public support for changes to be brought in with respect to the process by which .ie domain names are applied for by individuals, business and brand owners.

Currently, the application process is two-fold. The applicant must firstly show their connection to the island of Ireland, together with proving their identity. In addition the applicant must show their claim to a particular domain name, i.e. their reason for wanting a particular name. A claim can be shown by a number of factors such as the reputation already built by the applicant in respect of their brand.

The new process will remove this "claim" requirement for the applicant, with the intention of making the process quicker and easier for anyone with a connection to the island of Ireland to register any domain name. This in turn should encourage more Irish small office, home office, start-ups and micro businesses to use the .ie domain name, who may not otherwise have had a sufficient claim to a domain as they may not be registered in the Companies Registration Office, may be VAT exempt and may not have a physical presence – resulting in little evidence of their claim.

Concerns have been raised that the new process will remove the desirable exclusivity of the domain and will result in oversaturation. However, the effect of the more liberalised process remains to be seen.

In the interim period, it is important that anyone with a claim to a particular domain name, for which they would like to apply, do so while the current process remains in place, so as to ensure any existing claim can be recognised. The change in process which will render the application simply "first come, first served". If the desired domain is taken by a person other than a claim holder, while it may be possible to offer for the claim holder to buy out the domain name from the owner, there will be no obligation on the owner to do so.

Following the implementation of the new policy in March, any dispute where a certain domain is taken by another party will be handled in accordance with the IEDR dispute resolution policy. Here an independent administrative panel can adjudicate where a complaint is that the domain name is identical or misleadingly similar to a protected identifier in which the complainant has rights, that the Registrant has no rights in law or legitimate interests in respect of a domain name. Importantly the dispute process is only in respect of claims that a domain name has been registered or is being used in bad faith. This process, which can cost up to €5,000.00, will not guarantee claim to a particular name.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.