Empowering Africa

30-04-2014

Neil Dundas

The .africa TLD presents a host of opportunities for the private and public sectors to participate in and celebrate Africa’s online growth, says Neil Dundas.

This year marks the first time that brands, both international and local, will be able to engage with the broader African market online, through Africa’s very own web address. The continent’s new generic top-level domain (TLD)—.africa—is set to empower Africa with a highly recognisable and distinctive online brand to position and promote locally-relevant products, services and information.

An initiative of the African Union Commission and the ZA Central Registry (ZACR), the .africa project enjoys widespread support from African governments, businesses, civil society and the African internet community. The project is led by a multi-stakeholder, pan-African steering committee with members from across the continent.

Rights protection

A central focus of the .africa initiative has been to communicate just how important it is for businesses, both in Africa and abroad, to adequately secure their IP when it comes Africa's new online domain name.

To encourage broader stakeholder participation and to establish .africa as the most widely accepted and used domain name on the African continent, the .africa initiative has implemented a reserved names list to protect important and sensitive naming rights. This has received widespread support and participation from the African public sector, and names such as ‘cairo.africa’, ‘nairobi.africa’ and ‘zulu.africa’ have subsequently been reserved awaiting allocation and use by the relevant authorities.

ZACR has itself also compiled a list of reserved names specific to the launch and operation of the .africa TLD, including ‘registry.africa’, ‘foundation.africa’ and ‘community.africa’. These names will, like many others in the reserved name list, be associated with locally developed and relevant content.

When it comes to the private sector, trademark and other IP owners can take advantage of the priority rights registration process, known as the sunrise period, to secure their valuable naming rights as corresponding .africa domain names. Think ‘nike.africa’, ‘shoprite.africa’ and ‘cisco.africa’, to mention a few.

The sunrise period is estimated to start on June 1, 2014.

Any priority right must be first validated through the global Trademark Clearinghouse or the local Mark Validation System (MVS) before being applied for as a corresponding domain name during the sunrise period.

It is important to note that following the conclusion of the sunrise application period, ZACR will start allocating domain name applications based on a pre-determined priority ranking system. Domain name applications based on trademark rights registered in Africa will receive the highest priority ranking, followed by trademarks registered in other jurisdictions.

It is also important to note that, during the sunrise period, applicants can also apply for domain names based on unregistered or common law marks, although these will have to be validated via the MVS and will receive a lower priority ranking than registered trademarks.

Generic names, including high value premium names, will also be available for application during the launch period, but these applications will be processed after all the sunrise applications have been allocated. Contentions will be dealt with by means of an auction process whereby the competing parties will be able to bid for their desired domain names, based on a highest bidder wins principle.

General availability

Following the conclusion of the .africa launch period, the registry will commence the allocation of available domain names on a first-come, first-served basis, with no other eligibility criteria being required.

Rights protection mechanisms, such as the Uniform Rapid Suspension System, the Post Delegation Dispute Resolution Procedure and the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy, will all be available means to address IP abuse.

Neil Dundas is the COO at ZA Central Registry. He can be contacted at ndundas@registry.net.za

.africa, brands, ZACR, domain names, gTLDs, trademark registration

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