Domain names are identifiers or addresses rather than IP rights. They can be useful in reaching Chinese consumers and raising the visibility of your business in China. It can be important to protect domain names to prevent them being misused by domain name squatters or counterfeiters.
A Chinese domain name such as .cn may be useful to engage with Chinese consumers and raise the visibility of your business in China.
However, domain names can also be misused. Domain name squatters or counterfeiters may register a domain name comprising your company name or trade mark in order to seek a payout, or to set up a fake website that misleads your customers into buying their products.
Similar to trade marks, Chinese domain names use a first-to-file system. For this reason, consider identifying any domain names you wish to protect, and registering them as early as possible.
Applicants can apply to register Chinese top-level domain names such as .cn through authorised domain name registrars. The China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC), which is the official Chinese government body responsible for domain name registration, provides more information and a list of authorised registrars at http://cnnic.com.cn/
Different registrars offer different prices and levels of service. A domain name registration can cost as little as AUD 10-20 per year. Registering a Chinese domain name is generally a quick process if you have met all the requirements.
Some companies choose to host a Chinese language page within their .com website, such as at .com/china, instead of using a Chinese domain name. If you do this, you may need to check the website is actually accessible from a user accessing the internet within China. Also consider registering any important .cn or other Chinese domain names you want to prevent others from registering, and have these redirect to your own website.
If someone registers a domain name that is important to you, you may choose to let it go, try to buy it from the registered owner, or pursue domain name dispute resolution.
Disputes over Chinese top-level domain names are handled according to the CNNIC Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, which is based on the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).
As of November 2019, CNNIC has authorised three service providers to arbitrate domain name disputes. These are:
- The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) Arbitration and Mediation Center;
- The China International Economic and Trade Arbitration Commission (CIETAC) Domain Name Dispute Resolution Centre, located in Beijing; and
- The Hong Kong International Arbitration Centre (HKIAC)
Disputes over Chinese top-level domain names are handled according to the CNNIC Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy, which is based on the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP). The WIPO website explains the differences between UDRP and the .cn policy at https://www.wipo.int/amc/en/domains/cctld/cn/
A complaint must establish all of the following grounds:
- The disputed domain name is identical with or confusingly similar to the Complainant's name or mark in which the Complainant has civil rights or interests;
- The disputed domain name holder has no right or legitimate interest in respect of the domain name or major part of the domain name; and
- The disputed domain name holder has registered or has been using the domain name in bad faith.
In order to establish the first point, it is useful to have a prior registered trade mark in China. It will also be useful to have evidence of the use and reputation of the trade mark or trade name within China.
The arbitration process only applies to domain names that have been registered for less than three years (revised from two years to three years in June 2019). After this, complaints must be filed with the Chinese courts.
Domain name scams
If you receive an unsolicited email regarding any aspects of domain name registration, be aware that it is likely to be a scam. Domain name scams can be very sophisticated and persuasive, with emails from multiple senders.
In one typical scam, you are sent an email informing you that someone else has tried to register your company name as a domain name. The sender tells you they have noticed the conflict with your company name and is writing to you to ask whether you authorised this domain name registration.
In another typical scam, you are sent an email from someone who claims to have registered your company name as a domain name and offers to sell it to you.
The best course of action is generally to ignore these scam emails and use a registrar of your choice to register any domain names that are important to you.