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Wednesday, 13 January 2010

The future of trade marks in the EU: OHIM speaks

One minute ago, at exactly 3pm Central European Time, corresponding to 2pm in snowy old England, the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market published its Contribution to the Study on the Overall Functioning of the Trade Mark System in Europe. This 38-page document (not as daunting as it sounds: the Annexes start at p.18) makes fascinating reading, not least because of the proposal to give €300m back to trade mark users by way of compensation for the years of excessive fees. In practice this could mean that getting on for quarter of a million trade mark owners might receive refunds of between €400 and €600 for each trade mark they registered.

As for the rest of the OHIM cash mountain, OHIM recommends keeping €50m for itself as a strategic reserve, while a further €50m has already been set aside for cooperation projects with national IP offices (on which see the OHIM Cooperation Fund, which will roar into action later this year).

Money is not everything, of course, and some of the OHIM's comments come in the form of proposed changes in the basic regulations covering the Community trade mark in the light of changes that have taken place since the previous century when the fax was king. Other proposals address OHIM governance and its relationship with national offices, and even substantive issues such as what constitutes genuine use.

Readers with a long memory may recall that the European Commission commissioned a study into the working of the European trade mark system at the request of the Council of Ministers way back in 2007. This task was entrusted to the Max Planck Institute (Munich) towards the end of last year and OHIM's Contribution is intended to assist that review.

OHIM is actually quite critical of its own governance system, since it enables representatives of national registries to influence the respective fee levels of OHIM and national offices, thereby affecting the organisation's competitiveness as well as resulting in the amassing of a huge reserve. Representation by users' groups and with greater involvement of the Commission is preferred, merging OHIM’s Administrative Board and Budget Committee.

The IPKat hopes to read this document more closely when the opportunity arises, but he's sure that many of his readers will beat him (and Merpel) to it and wil have lots of opinions of their own.

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