Mike Banahan

Mike Banahan is managing director of GBdirect, an Internet strategy consultancy whose clients include Creda and domestic appliances manufacturer Cannon

From August 1 this year, anyone has been able to apply for any name they like in the .co.uk Internet domain. The names are allocated first come, first served – just like the international .com domain. So what will you do when you get a letter out of the blue saying: “We have registered the names yourbrand.co.uk and yourbrand.com. for our own use. For only xxx we will relinquish them”?

It’s not hypothetical, it’s happening now. McDonald’s in the US was involved in a high-profile case, as was Harrods, but those were isolated instances from people with a point to make. Now, there are groups making a business of it. It is no longer a question of “if”, but “when”. It has happened to several of our customers already.

You can cough up the money and wince, but has it done any good? What about the dozens of other domains around the world – every country has its own – are you going to register yourbrand.fr in France, yourbrand.de in Germany, yourbrand.nl in Holland – ad infinitum?

It’s time to get a grip. None of these domains is magic. There’s nothing that says you have to pick any of them. Although it might look as though .co.uk is a “must have”, the company running the .co.uk domain can split the .uk domain as it pleases, and what’s more it is doing so. It has already announced .plc.uk and .ltd.uk for registered companies. It can carry on doing that as much as it likes. The .com domain is now so crowded that there are plans to introduce new “top-level” domains to create space.

Eventually there will be so many domains that they’ll be like STD codes and nobody will fight over them. The problem at the moment is that they look as if they matter, just like the old London phone numbers. “MAYfair” was prestigious until it became just a number. That’s how the Internet is now. While all the commercial activity lives in .co.uk it is a nice address, but there’s nothing to say that’s how it will stay.

So, what should you do? The problem won’t go away. Your best bet is to protect your brands in .com and .co.uk while they still matter (the costs are small, about 150 a time), treat the other countries on their merits and then watch how the situation develops.

The radical alternative is to register an umbrella name and subdivide it for your own brands – if that suits your positioning. Most don’t even know they can do that.

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