On February 14, 2006, the China Internet Network Information Center ("CNNIC") promulgated a new version of the CNNIC Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy ( "CNDRP "), which governs disputes relating to " .cn" domain names and all- Chinese domain names ("CNNIC domain names") . The new CNDRP will come into force on March 17, 2006 (the "2006 Policy ") and supercede s the CNDRP which h as been in effect since September 30, 2002 (the "2002 Policy") . T he 2002 Policy will continue to apply to CNDRP proceedings commenced on or before March 16, 2006.

The CNDRP provides a set of efficient and cost effective procedures for resolving ownership disputes involving CNNIC domain names. To succeed, the complainant in a CNDRP proceedings must satisfy three conditions: (a) the disputed domain name is identical or confusingly similar to the complainant's name or mark, (b) the disputed domain name holder (the "respondent") has no legitimate interest in the domain name, and (c) the respondent has registered or has been using the domain name in bad faith. While these basic tenets remain the same under the 2006 Policy, certain new rules highlighted below will make the recovery of CNNIC domain names more difficult.

The 2006 Policy contains three key changes:

  • Two-year limitation period - If a domain name has been registered for more than two years, a CNNIC dispute resolution service provider will not accept a CNDRP complaint. Under the 2002 regime, a CNNIC domain name registration may be challenged at any time without regard to its registration date, by CNDRP proceedings or otherwise.
  • Stricter proof of bad faith required - Mere registration for the purpose s of selling, renting or otherwise transferring a CNNIC domain name by itself is no longer sufficient proof of bad faith. Such acts must be done with a view to obtain unjustified benefits from the c omplainant or its competitors to constitute bad faith.
  • Presumption of legitimate interest - A respondent is presumed to enjoy rights and legitimate interest in the disputed domain name if , prior to receiving a c omplaint , it has made bona fide, legitimate or fair use of the same or it has come to be known by the disputed domain name even if it has acquired no corresponding trademark right .

The 2002 Policy is generally known to bias toward trademark owners. The 2006 Policy has leveled the playing field. While the overall effect of these changes is that recover y of a CNNIC domain name under the CNDRP will be more difficult, t he new provisions also bring China's rules for domain name dispute resolution closer to the Uniform Domain Name Dispute Resolution Policy applicable to ICANN domain names . Moreover, t he introduction of a limitation period into the rules governing CNDRP proceedings will not preclude a trademark owner from challenging a CNNIC domain name registration via other legal actions; for instance, by commencing a civil suit in the People's Court which, no doubt, will be a more expensive and time-consuming exercise.

English ".cn" and all-Chinese domain names are important intellectual property assets and very effective marketing tools for the Chinese market. If you would like assistance in identifying gaps or other issues relating to your ".cn" and Chinese-character domain name portfolio, please let us know and we will be glad to help.