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Registering top level domain names in China

With more than 854 million ‘netizens’ (as of July 2019), China connects more people to the internet than any other country. In fact, every fourth person on the internet is from China. Facilitated by the increasing availability of broadband technology and the love of online shopping, the Internet is an attractive business and marketing platform for many European small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Overseas companies and individuals can register domain names in China with the China Internet Network Information Centre (CNNIC). The China Intellectual Property Rights (IPR) SME Helpdesk recommends European SMEs take advantage of this facility if they are planning on entering the Chinese market or are already operating in China.

Domain name requirements

Since May 2012, .cn and .中国 domain name registrations have been available for private individual registrations (both Chinese and overseas). Domain name registration must be completed through an accredited registrar. The process currently takes around 15 working days and costs euro (EUR) 40–100.

The following steps are required:

  • Translate your domain names into Chinese and find an accredited registrar on the CNNIC website, which is also available in English, for both .cn and .中国 domains.
  • Check (the registrar can do this on your behalf) if the particular .cn domain name you want is available for registration by referring to the CNNIC registry.
  • Complete an application form with the business seal of the applicant company (to be provided by your registrar);
  • Provide a copy of your local business certificate from your home country (or, if you apply as an individual, a copy of your passport, driving licence or other official identification); and
  • Sign a ‘Letter of Commitment’ (to be provided by your registrar).

Submitting originals is not required, nor are copies of trademark certificates to prove a prior right to the requested domain name.

These requirements are both good news and bad news for European SMEs. The good news is that the removal of the local presence requirements enable European SMEs to register .cn and .中国 domain names using their European company data and business certificates. This eliminates the need to establish a local business unit within China.

The flipside of the coin, however, is that after an immense effort by the Chinese authorities to clear the .cn name of fake registrants, the removal of local presence requirements may again make this and the .中国 domain name an attractive space for cybersquatters—an individual or firm that registers a domain in bad faith, with the intent to sell it to the rightful owner at an inflated price—and other online criminals. By requiring copies of business certificates and passports for private individual registrations, one can hope that the .cn domain space will not be as attractive to cybersquatters as completely automated top-level domain (TLD) names, such as .com and .net.

The .中国 (.China) top-level domain

The .中国 TLD was intended to promote Chinese content on websites. Meanwhile, for European businesses, the .中国 TLD provides an inexpensive and efficient way to reach Chinese consumers in their own language.

As of December 2019, China had 50.94 million domain names. Among them, there were 22.43 million .cn domain names or 44 per cent of the national total, up 5.6 per cent from the end of 2018; the number of .com domain names was 14.92 million or just under 30 per cent; .中国 domain names accounted for 1.7 million or 3.3 per cent; and new generic top-level domains (new gTLD) reached 10.13 million, or one-fifth of the national total.[1]

What are the rules for registering .中国 domain names?

Registrants of existing .cn domain names with Chinese characters—such as for instance 中文.cn—will automatically be granted the same domain name using the .中国 TLD in both simplified and traditional Chinese.

If a company wishes to register a new domain name containing Chinese characters both under .cn (中文.cn) and .中国 (中文.中国), they will have to file two registration applications.

Furthermore, it is possible to combine Chinese scripts with Latin characters, Arabic numbers (0–9), and hyphens when registering under .中国.

Take-away message

Registering Chinese domain names is now a quick, cheap and relatively simple process. To reap the business rewards of reaching Chinese internet users in their own language, European SMEs should take care to register their company and trademark domain names as early as possible in China.

The China IPR SME Helpdesk supports SMEs from European Union (EU) member states to protect and enforce their intellectual property rights (IPR) in or relating to China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, through the provision of free information and services. The Helpdesk provides jargon-free, first-line, confidential advice on intellectual property and related issues, along with training events, materials and online resources. Individual SMEs and SME intermediaries can submit their IPR queries via email (question@china-iprhelpdesk.eu) and gain access to a panel of experts, in order to receive free and confidential first-line advice within three working days.

The China IPR SME Helpdesk is an initiative by the European Union

To learn more about the China IPR SME Helpdesk and any aspect of intellectual property rights in China, please visit our online portal at http://www.ipr-hub.eu/.

[1] https://tech.sina.com.cn/i/2020-04-28/doc-iirczymi8579177.shtml