.Io and .ai domain names: what are the legal rules?

Domain names with a .io and .ai extension are gaining popularity. This article explains what .io domain names and .ai domain names stand for, why they have become so popular, and how you can start a legal procedure to claim a .io or .ai domain name.

What do .io and .ai domain names stand for?

The top-level domains “.io” and “.ai” are “country code” top-level domains, or “ccTLDs”. This means that they are linked to websites, connected to a specific country or area. In the case of “.ai”, this is Anguilla, an island in the Caribbean Sea that belongs to the Lesser Antilles. The top-level domain “.io” refers to domain names of websites from islands that belong to the British Indian Ocean Territory (a British overseas territory in the Indian Ocean).

.io domains and .ai domains: what are they used for?

The popularity of .ai and .io domain name registrations has little to do with their associated geographical areas. Their attractiveness comes from the fact that “OI” and “AI” are abbreviations for frequently used terms in the ICT and technology world. “IO” stands for input/output, a term describing the communication between a computer and the outside world (such as a human or other system). “AI” is the abbreviation for Artificial Intelligence, the science that focuses on providing intelligence to computers and other devices. The registration of a .io domain name or a .ai domain name is popular among companies that are active in the IT and technology sector.

What are the benefits of a .io domain name or a .ai domain name?

It is not only because these “country code” top-level domains correspond to abbreviations that are regularly used in the ICT sector that they are so popular. Another reason is that many .io and .ai domain names are still available for registration. Registrants of a new domain name can opt for this type of domain name extension if a domain name with a more general top-level domain (such as “.com”, “.net” or “.org”) is already occupied.

In other words, companies or individuals can choose to register a simple and catchy .ai or .io domain name, when their preferred ‘.com’ or ‘.eu’ domain name is no longer available. After all, short and well-arranged domain names are likely to attract more traffic.

How to legally claim a .io or .ai domain name?

If you have a brand or a trade name, and you notice that it is used in a “.io” or “.ai” domain name that is not yours, you can start a special legal domain name procedure to claim this domain name.

The procedural rules and conditions for claiming the domain name differ depending on whether it is a “.io” or a “.ai” domain name.

.ai domain name procedures

For .ai domain name procedures, the relevant rules are the so-called “Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy” (UDRP), the related UDRP procedural rules and the WIPO supplemental rules for UDRP.

This means that the claimant in a .ai domain name procedure will have to prove 3 basic legal requirements:

(1) the .ai domain name is identical or confusingly similar to a trademark or service mark in which the complainant has rights; and

(2) the domain-name holder has no rights or legitimate interests in respect of the .ai domain name; and

(3) the .ai domain name was registered and is being used in bad faith.

.ai domain name disputes are administered by the WIPO Arbitration and Mediation Center (the WIPO Center). The fees are 1.500 USD for a single panelist (arbitrator) hearing and 4.000 euros if you want three panelists (arbitrators) to judge the case.

.io domain name procedures

For .io domain names, the dispute resolution policy is the so-called “Dispute Resolution Policy – .IO”. The procedural rules are an adapted version of the WIPO Expedited Arbitration Rules (as adapted for .io domain name disputes).

The person who starts the procedure to claim a .io domain name will have to prove that the current domain name owner (1) has violated his rights; and (2) the registration was made for an “unlawful purpose”. Also, any information in the domain name application that is later found to be false may lead to cancellation of the registration (and subsequent registration by another party).

The remedies that may be awarded are limited to: (1) the provisional suspension of the .io domain name registration for the duration of the proceedings; (2) the cancellation of the .io domain name registration; and (3), subject to the agreement of the parties, a modification of the registration. In practice, the cancellation of the .io domain name is the most likely outcome (the claimant will subsequently have to do his own registration of the domain name).

.io domain name complaints are also handled and judged by the WIPO Center, but the fees differ. The applicable fees for a .io domain name procedure are an administration fee of 500 USD plus a fee to be paid to the Tribunal (usually maximum 1.000 USD). The Tribunal will apportion the fees and costs between the parties in the light of the circumstances of the case and the outcome of the proceedings.