DENIC, the registry of Germany's .DE top-level domain, has announced that it is going to make one- and two-letter .DE domains available for registration in a few days for the first time. In addition to these, it will then also be possible to register pure number domains such as 123.de, which, unlike under .com, could not have been registered so far. As per DENIC's rules, it was not allowed to register domains without any letters or domains shorter than three letters under the .DE TLD. Those rules are now about to be changed after a 2008 Frankfurt court ruling involving Volkswagen has finally been confirmed by Germany's Federal Court last week.
Volkswagen has long been fighting to be allowed to register the domain name VW.de, because the company is commonly known under the acronym VW in Germany.
Only three two-letter domains had been registered by German companies during the short time frame before DENIC disallowed the registration of short domains years ago. Those three domain names were IX.de, HQ.de and Deutsche Bahn's DB.de. Following the court ruling in June 2008, I already speculated about DENIC relaxing its rules at some point in the future. It was only a matter of time until companies would be able to register all other short .DE domains.
Now that Volkswagen won against DENIC, the registry decided to completely do away with its rule instead of only allowing the car manufacturer to claim its domain name. I think that was the right decision, although it is still not clear how the domains will be made available exactly. It is expected that there will be a rush for these highly valuable domains, but chances of actually getting one of them are very low. It is also expected that major corporations will try to take possession of their short domains through legal actions. About all two-letter combinations are trademarked, so lots of companies will undoubtedly go after their acronyms with the help of their legal departments. The case of Volkswagen has shown to what lengths large companies will go to protect their brands on the Internet.
What surprised me and domain industry insiders, is that DENIC is going to expand the German name space on October 23, 2009 already. That is only five days away from this post and it leaves registrars with very little time to prepare for the thousands of domain registration queries they will be receiving for these sought-after domain names. For this special occasion all DENIC-accredited registrars were given a limited number of queries they may send to DENIC per minute in order to ensure equal opportunities for everybody. But smart companies are trying to play the system already. Domain marketplace Sedo, for example, has partnered with selected registrars in an effort to pool those limited domain registration queries and increase chances of successfully registering a domain. Sedo started a special online auction for the most valuable .DE domains that will be made available. Interested parties can place bids on the domains they want. The highest bidder of a domain will then get it if Sedo and its partner registrars are successful in registering it on behalf of the bidder. Bids on most two-letter .DE domains are currently in the low to mid four-figure range, but there are still more than four days to go until the auction ends and the domains will drop on the open market.
It will be most interesting to see how all this will play out, considering the high amount of money ready to be spent on these rare domain names. As said, the exact process is still not entirely clear. I hope DENIC will explain things better in the coming days, so that all interested companies and private investors will know how to best go about applying for the domain they want.