THE EUROPEAN COMMUNITY TRADEMARK
The European Community Trademark is a system whereby a trademark owner may file one trademark application with the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM), in one of the designated language, which, once registered, gives the trademark owner rights in all countries of the European Union. Under European Council Regulation (EC) No. 40/94, a single application submitted to a central office will result in a registration valid in all the Member States of the European Union.
OHIM, located in Alicante, Spain, first began accepting Community Trademark applications on January 1, 1996.
The Community Trademark does not abolish national trademark protection but allows registrations which coexist with national trademarks. The Community Trademark is often a cost effective and simplified means of obtaining protection in European countries rather than seeking registrations in various European countries individually. An applicant files only one application and pays the costs of prosecuting only one application, rather than prosecuting applications for each separate country.
The Community Trademark is available to European companies and non-European companies alike. With some limited restrictions, nearly everyone is eligible to file for a Community Trademark. Only non-European, non-Paris Convention and non-World Trade Organization (WTO) member states that do not accord reciprocal rights to foreign applicants are excluded.
The Official languages under which a Community Trademark may be filed are English, French, German, Italian, and Spanish. The language requirement may pose a problem for applicants whose native language is not one of the five official Community Trademark Office languages.
Businesses who already own a trademark registration in one of the European Union countries may claim a priority registration date in that mark provided that the protection sought is no broader than that provided by the earlier national registrations. Given this priority, once the Community Trademark application is granted, the national registration can be allowed to lapse, as the earlier national priority will be embodied in the Community Trademark registration. Likewise, a Community Trademark application, if objected to by various EU countries, can be converted into a national registration in an individual EU country, while retaining the priority date of the CTM application.
Once important aspect of having both national and CTM registrations existing simultaneously is that an applicant should conduct a Trademark Search both of the CTM register as well as the registers of each individual EU countries. Prior registrations, whether identical or confusingly similar to the applicants mark, both in individual countries and on the CTM register, can serve to block registration of a company’s trademark.
Once a Community Trademark application is filed, a search report is generated listing various similar or identical registered and pending marks, giving the applicant the opportunity to withdraw the application. Other European member states conduct their own searches and notify the Office of any conflicting registrations found.
USE OF THE MARK
While trademark rights in general are perpetual, in the United States and most other countries, to keep a trademark in effect the mark must be used in commerce. Failure to use the mark for a certain period of time will lead to its abandonment. Under the Community Trademark system, use in only one of the member states constitutes use in the entire Community sufficient to keep the mark in effect.
Five years’ nonuse of a mark renders a registration vulnerable to cancellation, although as indicated above use in one EU member state is deemed use in all of them.
Oppositions may be brought on the basis of other Community Trademarks, national registrations or applications, and other prior rights. A benefit to opposers is that a single opposition proceeding can affect the entire Community Trademark filing, rather than having to oppose in each individual country.
Applications may be opposed within three months of publication for opposition for opposition purposes. An opposer can file in any of the five languages of the Office, but must provide translation at his own expense if he does not choose one of the two languages of the application in question. Applications that are opposed successfully, or are otherwise refused, may be converted into national applications retaining the original priority date.
Where for a period of five years, the proprietor of an earlier national registration has acquiesced in the use of a later CTM in the member state in which the earlier trademark is protected, there shall be no basis for invalidating or opposing the CTM. This does not apply to use of the CTM in the other member states.
A Community Trademark Registration is renewable every ten years. The renewal in all countries covered by the Community Trademark may be accomplished through a single filing. The costs and administrative benefits of a single renewal filing with a single fee, versus many filings and fees, are great. .
LICENSES AND ASSIGNMENTS
A License to use mark is an effective way for a trademark owner to utilize its rights in the mark. The license gives a third party the right to use the mark under the terms and conditions laid out by the licensor. A license can be either exclusive or non-exclusive, and can lay out the territories in which it is effective. Payment of a royalty is usual in connection with obtaining a license. Recordal of a license at the Community Trademark Office is required to be effective against third parties. The benefit of this is that, like with renewal, only one recordal in Alicante is necessary. Assignments must also be recorded to be effective against third parties.
Actions for infringement, and appeals therefrom, are brought in the individual member states in courts specially designated to hear Community Trademark matters, which will apply EU law, rather than national law.
CONVERSION INTO NATIONAL APPLICATIONS
Under the Regulation and Rules, a party whose Community Trademark application is rejected, either based on prior rights or for other reasons, can convert the application into separate national applications that retain the Community Trademark application priority date.
In June of 2016 the people of the United Kingdom voted to remove themselves from the European Union. Under Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 of December 20 1993 and Council Regulation (EC) No 207/2009 of February 26, 2009, there is nothing stated about what would happen to European Community Trademarks if a member of the community were to leave. However, given that the United Kingdom has left the Union, it is likely that European Community Trademarks will no longer be recognized in the United Kingdom. Trademark owners could thus lose all of their rights. More than likely however, after negotiation with the European Union, the United Kingdom will reach some resolution for converting European Community Trademarks into United Kingdom national trademarks. It remains to be seen at this time what form of agreements will be reached to prevent Community Trademark owners from losing their rights in the United Kingdom, while at the same time keeping some continuity in the harmonization of how the use and registration of marks are treated under the various laws.
The European Community Trademark is a streamlined and cost-effective mechanism for obtaining trademark rights in the European Community. Through one filing and one filing fee an applicant can obtain a registration covering all of the countries of the European Union. This can be particularly beneficial for U.S. companies doing business in Europe. Further, the requirement that use of a mark must only be made in one country of the EU, allows US companies to be able to focus on only those European countries of interest to them under their mark, while allowing room for them to expand their products or services to other EU countries covered by their trademark.
The Miami Law Offices of Michael D. Stewart can assist you in these and a variety of other issues. You may contact us at Michael D. Stewart, Esq. * Law Offices of Michael D. Stewart * 200 SE 1st St., Suite 701 * Miami, Florida 33131 *
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