The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the body that oversees technical matters related to the Net, has finally approved the application from the European Registry of Internet Domain names (EURid) to take the new TLD (Top Level Domain) into ICANN's root files. Companies have already been waiting for seven-and-a-half years for the process to be completed.

But they'll have to wait a little longer. EURid said that the date when companies can start registering their trademarked names with the .eu suffix, the so-called sunrise period, would begin in late 2005.

EURid was chosen by the European Union's executive body, the European Commission, to manage the .eu TLD. The nonprofit group has long contended that the creation of the .eu TLD is an important step in promoting e-commerce in Europe as well as the European identity and for creating higher visibility of the internal market.

On Tuesday, EURid also tapped the Belgian arm of PricewaterhouseCoopers to oversee the work involved with the validation of "prior right" claims invoked by domain name applicants during the four month sunrise period. During that period, only public bodies and holders of rights, such as trademarks and company names, are allowed to register the names using the .eu TLD, after which, general registrations are granted on a first-come-first-served basis., a privately held domain name registration company based in Luxembourg, has been offering domain registration including free .eu preregistration since February and said it already has requests for several hundred preregistrations.

As part of the ICANN process for creating the domain name suffix, the registrar agreement for the .eu TLD will become available in May, which will then allow the EURid to begin accrediting .eu registrars and publishing a list on its Web site. In June, a draft .eu TLD registration policy will be published, ICANN said.

The effort to create the European suffix was launched in September 1997, when a group of European Internet service providers, EuroISPA, proposed in the Commission that it request the delegation of .eu.