Domain names with umlauts can be registered from March 1 2004

Germany

DENIC, the German registrar for '.de' domain names, has announced that as of March 1 2004 it will start accepting registrations of domain names containing umlauts and other special characters. The new registration system will be instituted by the Swiss '.ch' (SWITCH) and Austrian '.at' (NIC.at) domain name registries at the same time.

So far, these registries have only been able accept domain name registrations that use the Roman letters and numerals in the standard ASCII (American Standard Code for Information Interchange) character set. However, following modifications to the international framework, it is now possible to register multilingual domain names - often referred to as internationalized domain names. Thus, DENIC will be able to allow registration of domain names containing the umlauts 'ä', 'ö' and 'ü' in the '.de' country-code top-level domain.

While some private German companies are already offering pre-registrations of such domain names, it should be noted that these pre-registrations will have no immediate effect and there are no guarantees that DENIC will accept them once registration starts on March 1 2004.

From a legal standpoint, it remains to be seen whether the likely increase in domains will lead to a rise in domain name conflicts. At present, a company or a brand owner with an umlaut in its trade or brand name will usually have registered a domain name that is phonetically equivalent to that name or brand (ie, a company that trades under the name Müller may have registered the domain name 'mueller.de'). It is advisable for such companies or brand owners to register the technically different domain name that includes the umlaut (eg, 'müller.de'). Failure to register such domain names may allow the registration to be taken up by a third party, which in turn may cause increased confusion among internet users. However, it is worth bearing in mind that, under German trademark law, words with an umlaut (eg, 'Müller') and their equivalents without (eg, 'Mueller') are phonetically identical, and consequently use of either version in a domain name can be held to be infringing.

Alexander R Klett, Gleiss Lutz, Stuttgart

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