.UK Dispute Resolution Service: 2023 Report Findings Revealed

7th February 2024

Occasionally, disputes arise in relation to .UK domain names; for example, who owns them and how they should – and shouldn’t – be used. If these disputes can’t be resolved amicably, then a formal process is required.

As the official registry for .UK, we provide a Dispute Resolution Service (DRS) to resolve domain name disputes as efficiently as possible. The DRS aims to settle disputes through mediation and, where this isn’t possible, through an independent expert decision.

We produce reports detailing the number of domain name disputes we’ve resolved, the nature of the disputes, where they come from, and case outcomes. Our 2023 report provides an at-a-glance overview of our Dispute Resolution Service and highlights some of the most noteworthy cases. Read on for this year’s key findings.

48% of dispute cases resulted in a domain transfer in 2023

Our 2023 report reveals that 48% of all domain dispute cases that went through our DRS process resulted in a domain transfer. In other words, the complainant was successful in their claim to a particular domain (or domains). This is up slightly from 2021, where 43% of disputed domains were transferred.

We’re proud of our Dispute Resolution Service track record, which enables users to resolve disputes efficiently and cost-effectively. As a public benefit company, we don’t profit from the DRS; we consider our mediator role to be an important service, which supports the internet ecosystem for the better.

Over the past decade, while there have been some natural fluctuations, the number of complaints going through the DRS has declined overall, with 511 complaints in 2023 vs 674 in 2013. The 2023 figures also represent a decline from recent years, with 568 complaints in 2022 and 548 in 2021.

As guardians of .UK, we want to protect the .UK name space and enable individuals and businesses to thrive in a fair digital economy. We can only do this because of formal processes like the DRS, which help to ensure all parties to a dispute have the chance to be heard and their perspectives are carefully considered.

Domain disputes were most active in the automotive industry

Our latest report also captures the top industries involved in domain disputes in the past year, with the automotive industry leading the way with nine cases, followed by banking and finance with five.

Other industries which frequently appeared in domain dispute cases in 2023 included retail (four cases), hotels and travel (four cases), software (three cases) and electronics (three cases).

This year’s report demonstrates that, where full decisions were made, automotive complaints more than doubled from four cases in 2021 to nine in 2023.

Interestingly, the food and beverages industry made it into the top three industries to receive complaints in 2021, with six complaints in total. By contrast, in 2023 there were none. It’s difficult to tell whether this reflects a long-term trend – it depends on whether the trend continues.

Noteworthy domain name dispute cases in 2023 revealed

A tale with a twist for exante.co.uk

The report also reveals some of the most noteworthy domain name dispute cases in 2023. One of these is exante.co.uk, which considers the situation where both parties own a trademark that’s the same as the domain name. The respondent was a diet foods brand owned by TheHut.com Ltd, which registered trademarks in 2007 and 2013 for the terms ‘Exante’ and ‘Exante Diet’. The complainant, XNT Ltd, was a Malta-based company providing financial and investment services, which also had trademarks for the term “Exante” – the earliest of which was registered in 2016.

The complainant claimed the domain was used in a way that was unfair to them – and that they didn’t grant the respondent any licence, or other authority, to use their trademark. The complainant alleged bad faith and unfair disruption to its business against the respondent, without providing proper supporting evidence.

In this case, the expert wasn’t persuaded that bad faith could be attributed to the respondent, since the respondent’s Exante trademarks predated the complainant’s trademark. In fact, the expert concluded that the complainant had acted in bad faith by bringing the case forward, and made a finding of what’s known as Reverse Domain Name Hijacking (three such findings in two years will bar a complainant from using the DRS).

A lightbulb moment for generalelectriccompany.co.uk

Another notable domain dispute case concerns generalelectriccompany.co.uk.

The complainant, General Electric Company (GE), was set up in 1892. The respondent, IEA Global SAP Consultants – General Electric Company Ltd, was established in June 2020. The respondent decided to register generalelectriccompany.co.uk, some 138 years after Thomas Edison launched the first company.

After considering the DRS policy in relation to overseas rights, the expert concluded that there was likely to be initial interest confusion between the two General Electric Companies. As a result, the domain name was awarded to the complainant. The expert didn’t accept the respondent’s argument that there had for many years been an earlier English company, also called General Electric, as that company had nothing to do with the respondent and no longer existed.

Cases like these shine a light on the DRS experts’ important work and some of the considerations that must be made to determine who should rightfully own a domain name. Without the DRS, legal costs for both parties could spiral, with disputes remaining unresolved for some time.

Looking to the future: Domain dispute trends and predictions

To understand the data in context and consider the current and potential outlook for domain name disputes, we spoke with Nick Gardner, domain name and legal expert on our DRS panel.

Our conversation about domain dispute resolution centred around the ability to prove whether a domain was created or used in ‘bad faith’, which led us to consider how advancements in AI might impact future dispute cases.

“As machine learning and algorithms increasingly dictate decisions, the ability to prove the motive behind creating or using a particular domain name is likely to become more complex. The domain name industry has already evolved significantly, most notably due to the sheer volume of domain names being registered, which is having a knock-on effect on domain dispute cases.”

– Nick Gardner, Nominet DRS Panel 

We look forward to seeing what the future holds for the domain name industry and predict that our DRS will be more important than ever to keep the domain name ecosystem running smoothly.

To find out more, download the DRS report for 2023.