The European family of trade mark owners, practitioners, consumers, judges and administrators has been waiting patiently to find out what might be the fate of the European Commission's proposals for trade mark reform. Today we have found out: both the EU Council and the European Parliament are, at least in theory, supportive. This Kat reproduces today's media release below, with a few comments inserted in bold red print. This is how it reads:
European Parliament and EU Council back European Commission trade mark reform package
Further detail is provided by this item on the Council's Consilium website, which states:
Under the agreement, a number of political principles will be incorporated in the new system, including:
- a new structure with a reduced level of fees to be paid by applicants and proprietors of trade marks; such a reduction is justified by the need to render the system more accessible to users [do we know how many people have found the current system (as distinct from OHIM's headquarters in Alicante) inaccessible?] and to balance OHIM's budget [surely this is the real reason], which has been producing considerable budgetary surpluses over the years;
- the setting up of an offsetting mechanism to cover expenses incurred by national industrial property offices resulting from the handling of procedures involving EU trade marks. 5% of the OHIM annual revenue is foreseen for the offsetting mechanism, with the possibility of increasing this amount by another 5% in case of a substantive budgetary surplus [this is long overdue, from the perspective of sometimes under-resourced national offices which will welcome this step];
- closer cooperation between national offices and the OHIM in projects to promote convergence of practices and tools in the field of trade marks and designs. The maximum amount of funding for cooperation projects is set at 15% of the yearly revenue of the OHIM [OHIM and national offices have been very good about this, so further cooperation is very welcome];
- the improvement of the governance structure and the establishment of sound financial procedures in the OHIM [European Patent Office, take note!];
- the renaming of the OHIM to "European Union Intellectual Property Office" [Merpel wonders whether it will be the only Intellectual Property Office in the world that has no responsibility for patents. Come to think of it, it won't be responsible for copyright, plant breeders' rights, geographical indications, domain names ...];
- the implementation of efficient and expeditious administrative procedures by the national offices for revocation or declaration of invalidity of trade marks [much welcome, particularly if issues relating to burden of proof, standard of proof and admissibility of evidence are to be dealt with consistently across the Community trade mark and national marks];
And let's not forget the European Parliament's own statement, which adds little other than the news that
- the adaptation of the designation and classification of goods and services to comply with recent EU case law, in conformity with the international classification established by the Nice agreement [many pixels have already been consumed in discussing this topic: the basic principle that an objective reading of the specification of goods and services for which a mark is registered should indicate what that mark covers -- and what it doesn't -- should be paramount].
"Throughout the negotiations, MEPs stressed the need to ensure smooth transit of generic medicines to developing countries" [generic medicines shouldn't have too many problems getting to developing countries, where they are needed, if they don't find themselves taking circuitous routes through some of the more attractive markets in the European Union before heading out there, and if they are at less risk of falling of those transitory lorries ...]Says this Kat, the system for trade mark registration, administration, enforcement and commercialisation is immeasurably better than it was in the 1970s, when Europe's finest were fretting about how to bring about a radical change to the feudal patchwork of autonomous jurisdictions which existed then. However, the fact that there has been so great an improvement should blind no-one to the fact that the system could be a lot better. He cautiously welcomes most of the current list of changes, believing that the European trade mark system, both for Community trade marks and for national marks, is very much "work in progress" and that we can expect to see at least two more such sets of reforms before we are left with nothing but fine-tuning ahead of us. Most importantly, in his view, something should be done as a matter of urgency to speed the progress of trade mark litigation through Europe's courts (each of the General Court's three most recent rulings on an application to invalidate a mark were commenced over five years ago) and to process applications and oppositions far more swiftly through office procedures. That, he thinks, is the best way to benefit businesses and remove the uncertainty that blights their business plans.