By Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi SAN

It is believed that an intellectual property right does not protect domain names in the strict sense. Although, the name that makes up the domain name, on the other hand, may be protected by the appropriate intellectual property rights.

Introduction

A great example of massive growth experienced in this century is the influx of internet-enabled devices and increased network interconnection. It is recorded that there are 4.66 billion internet users in 2021[1] and expected that 72% of the world population will be active on the internet by 2025[2]. The internet has helped to break the barrier of location thus, making the world a global village where transactions take place seamlessly. People use the internet for several reasons. For example, to advertise their businesses and services, make sales, etc. It is safe to point out that any business or organization which does not operate a functional web location in this century to scale its product(s) or services, is already in a disadvantaged position in the business world of today.

This article seeks to highlight the importance of domain name registration and other ancillary matters associated with a domain name.

What is a Domain Name?

A Domain name is a distinct web or internet address that assists the internet user in the accessibility of a particular website. In most cases, a domain name is identifiable to a business or an organization as it carries the corporate name of the business or organization registering it.

In simple terms, if your website was a preferred physical location, then your domain name will be its address.

It is important to note that the internet is a massive network of computers linked by a global network of cables. This network allows each computer to communicate with the others.

Each computer is given an IP address so that it can be identified. It is a set of numbers that uniquely identifies a computer on the internet. The following is a typical IP address: 212.144.168.001

Imagine how frustrating it would be to visit your favourite websites using such numbers. The Domain Name System was created to solve this issue. At the moment, an easily readable name can be inputted in the address bar to access a website of choice[3]. For example, google.com, facebook.com, omaplex.com, etc.

It is equally important to note that a Domain name is not the same thing as a Uniform Resource Locator (URL).  A URL is the full web address of a website, and while it does contain the domain name, it contains other information, too. Each URL includes the internet protocol (most commonly HTTP or HTTPS) being used to call up the page. URLs can also help point browsers to a specific file or folder being hosted on a web server[4].

Nature of a Domain name

A common Internet domain name consists of a Secondary Level Domain (SLD), such as “yourcompanyname,” as well as a Top-level domain (TLD), such as “.com.” Although the “.com” TLD was created for commercial users, the “.org” TLD was created for non-profits, and the “.net” TLD was created for network service providers, these TLDs are not limited to these uses and are utilized by a wide range of organizations and individuals.

Other unrestricted TLDs include “.info,” “.tv,” “.business,” and “.us,” with more on the way. .edu (reserved for educational institutions),.gov (reserved for the government), and.mil (reserved for military) are examples of restricted or sponsored TLDs.

Some domain registrars will automatically recommend that you choose another TLD if your desired name is taken with the “.com” TLD. Even if there are no legal restrictions on using them, alternate TLDs could be confusing or inappropriate for your market sector[5].

Top-Level Domain

National TLDs (ccTLD, Country Code Top-Level Domain), such as .ng, .uk, .za, etc.

Generic TLDs (gTLD, Generic Top-Level Domain), such as .com, .net, .org, etc. and .biz.

A domain name is unique and allocated on a first-come-first-served basis providing the applicant meets the conditions for the allocation of the TLD.

Registration of a Domain Name

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for coordinating the management of the technical elements of the DNS to ensure universal resolvability,y so that all users of the Internet can find all valid addresses. It does this by overseeing the distribution of unique technical identifiers used in the Internet’s operations, and delegation of Top-Level Domain names (such as .com, .info, etc.)[6].

However, the registration of the TLDs is managed by ICANN accredited Internet registrars. A company can also confirm the availability of a domain name by searching a registrar’s site or by using a ‘WHOIS’ search. WHOIS is an internet database that contains information on domain names, the domain registrars, registrants, and the domain’s Administrative and Technical contacts. By performing a WHOIS search, one can also confirm who registered a domain name and its expiration date[7].

For registrations of a domain name in the ccTLDs, a company will need to contact the registration authority designated for each ccTLD. In Nigeria, the Nigerian Internet Registration Association (NiRA) is charged with the creation and allocation of sub-level domains; rules governing the accreditation of registrars and registry operations; rules governing the registration of names within sub-level domains and access to sub-level domain registries, and; ensuring that registrars have equal access to sub-level domain registries. The NiRA Manages Nigeria’s ccTLD[8].

It is believed that an intellectual property right does not protect domain names in the strict sense. However, the name that makes up the domain name, on the other hand, may be protected by the appropriate intellectual property rights.

CONCLUSION

Businesses with domain names are easily trackable and it is believed that sales, advertisement, or projection of services can be done by making use of domain names.

Business owners may choose to secure their interest in the name by trademarking the name. Although it is not enough to only trademark a domain name, due to territorial limitations, it is important to identify with various domain name regulators.

AUTHOR: Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi, SAN.

Mr. Oyetola Muyiwa Atoyebi, SAN is the Managing Partner of O. M. Atoyebi, S.A.N & Partners (OMAPLEX Law Firm) where he also doubles as the Team Lead of the Firm’s Emerging Areas of Law Practice.

Mr. Atoyebi has expertise in and a vast knowledge of Corporate and Commercial Law and this has seen him advise and represent his vast clientele in a myriad of high level transactions.  He holds the honour of being the youngest lawyer in Nigeria’s history to be conferred with the rank of a Senior Advocate of Nigeria.

He can be reached at atoyebi@omaplex.com.ng

COUNTRIBUTOR: John Oladipo.

John is the Team Lead of the Technology Law Group at OMAPLEX Law Firm. He also holds commendable legal expertise in Intellectual Property Law.

He can be reached at john.oladipo@omaplex.com.ng.

[1] Joseph Johnson, ‘ Global digital population as of January 2021  ‘ https://www.statista.com/statistics/617136/digital-population-worldwide/ date accessed: 18/04/2022

[2] Lucy Handley, ‘Nearly three quarters of the world will use just their smartphones to access the internet by 2025’, https://www.cnbc.com/2019/01/24/smartphones-72percent-of-people-will-use-only-mobile-for-internet-by-2025.html date accessed: 18/04/2022

[3] Wpbeginner, ‘Beginner’s Guide: What is a Domain Name and How Do Domains Work?’, https://www.wpbeginner.com/beginners-guide/beginners-guide-what-is-a-domain-name-and-how-do-domains-work/ date accessed: 19/04/2022

[4] Domain.COM, ‘ What is the Difference Between a Domain Name and a Website URL? ‘ https://www.domain.com/blog/difference-between-domain-and-a-website/ date accessed 19/04/2022

[5] Ibid American Bar Association, ‘Obtaining and Protecting Domain Names’ https://www.americanbar.org/groups/business_law/safeselling/domains/  Date accessed: 19/04/2022

[6] ICANN, ’What Does ICANN Do? ‘ https://www.icann.org/resources/pages/what-2012-02-25-en date accessed: 19/04/2022

[7] Davidson Oturu, ‘ IP – How to protect your domain name in Nigeria (2)’ , https://legalnaija.com/ip-how-to-protect-your-domain-name-in_10/02900951941647681314/ date accessed: 20/04/2022

[8] Article 2 of the Constitution of the Nigeria Internet Registration Association

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