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Only businesses established in the EU can register trademarks as web addresses in the '.eu' domain, a legal advisor to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has said.

Businesses based outside of the EU cannot contract with other companies based within the trading bloc to register trade mark domain names at the .eu domain on their behalf, Advocate General Verica Trstenjak said.

"Only undertakings and organisations which are themselves established in the EU may request a .eu domain name," the advocate general said, according to a statement from the court. "The .eu Top Level Domain is intended to provide a clearly identified link with the EU, the associated legal framework, and the European marketplace. It should enable undertakings, organisations and natural persons within the EU to register in a specific domain which will make this link obvious."

"Against that background, a non-resident undertaking cannot be allowed to circumvent the rules on eligibility by obtaining registration of a .eu domain name by means of a legal construction such as the commissioning of a third party organisation that is established in the European Union and thus an eligible party," the advisor said.

The ECJ was ruling in a case involving a US company, Walsh Optical, which had registered trade mark rights for 'Lensworld' in Belgium, Holland and Luxembourg. It entered into a licence agreement with Belgian intellectual property (IP) consultancy, Bureau Gevers, under which the consultancy filed for, and was later allocated registration of, the domain name 'lensworld.eu' on behalf of Walsh Optical.

Belgian optical retailer Pie Optiek had challenged Walsh Optical's right to hold the 'lensworld.eu' web address after being denied the right to register the same domain name trade mark on the grounds that Bureau Gevers had done so first.

Advocate General Trstenjak said that Walsh Optical's so-called 'licence agreement' with Bureau Gevers was in reality "a contract for the provision of services". Therefore the Belgian consultancy could not be considered a "licensee eligible" to benefit from the priority rights given to it when it had applied, and been granted, rights for 'lensworld.eu' on behalf of Walsh Optical, she said.

Copyright © 2012, Out-Law.com

Out-Law.com is part of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

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