Midlands businesses have become familiar with the process of registering as ".com" and ".co.uk" web address - but changes in the coming year will mean they will be able to register a domain name with a ".eu" suffix.
Chris Nyland, a member of the commercial/IP team at Hammonds in Birmingham, which has become one of the leading specialists in European IP, warns that businesses will need to stay alert and get ahead of the registration process to ensure that their .eu web address doesn't fall into the wrong hands.
Businesses that have a registered office or principal place of business within the European Union should be able to start the application process in the fourth quarter of 2005.
The domain names will be allotted on a first-come, firstserved basis, but there are limits on who can apply, and when.
For the first four months of the application process there will be a "sunrise" period.
In months one and two, trademark holders and public bodies can apply for the domain name that corresponds with their trade mark or name respectively. In months three and four the right to apply will expand to holders of other rights - such as company names, business identifiers and trade names. After the sunrise period expires the general public of the European Union can apply for .eu web addresses.
"There are four key reasons for registering an .eu web address," said Mr Nyland.
"If, like many businesses in the Midlands, you want to develop or highlight a presence in the European Union; if you want to register a short, memorable and relevant web address - particularly if you have been unable to register a suitable .com or .co.uk address; if you want to make sure you have control of the .eu website with the same name as your .com, .co.uk address; and if you want to ensure that nobody else is in a position to damage your internet brand - whether this is deliberate or not.
"Although you may have grounds to challenge a registration it's not yet clear what these grounds are or how easy it will be," he warned.
"It's likely to be far less expensive to make the first move with your own registration than incurring the costs and effort of contesting a registration by someone else, or having to buy a web address off them.
"By planning to register a .eu web address now you can avoid facing competition from undertakings and individuals across the 25 member states of the EU and give your application a high chance of being considered during the first part of the sunrise period, so make sure you get ahead in the queue of .eu wannabees," he said.
The Registration process will be through a . eu registrar accredited by the supervising body, the European Registry of Internet Domain Names ( EURid).
No registrars have been appointed yet and EURid has warned that any emails you receive offering to pre-register or register .eu web addresses on your behalf should be treated as spam until the list of accredited registrars is published later this month on its website (www.eurid.eu).