17 February 2012

Republic of Kosovo is 4

This day four years ago was a Sunday. I was living in Basel, Switzerland at the time and during the afternoon I decided to walk into the city centre and, inadvertently, joined the celebrations of the Republic of Kosovo's Declaration of Independence (from Serbia). Switzerland has a large Kosovar diaspora, estimated at about 10% of all Kosovars and Basel's Marktplatz was the meeting place for a crowd of Albanian flag-waving and whistling revellers. The flag of the Republic of Kosovo (below) was yet to be formally adopted.

It's actually just over four years that Kosovo began operating its own IP regime as on 19 November 2007 it opened an IP Office in the capital, Pristina. It has good intentions but is hampered by delays and this blog will give a brief overview.

Serbia does not recognise Kosovo's Declaration of Independence and it was not recognised by all other countries either. It has not applied to join the United Nations. Any request to do so is likely to be vetoed by Serbia's ally, Russia. Not being a member of the UN prevents Kosovo from acceding to the Madrid Protocol and means Kosovo is purely a national trade mark jurisdiction; the largest by population in Europe.

The IP Office works with paper files and has suffered from power cuts and from being understaffed which has resulted in a backlog of applications. It has looked at recruiting additional employees - and Kosovo suffers from chronic unemployment - but finding the right staff and getting them trained is still not a straightforward task. At least some of the local IP firms try to actively support the Office which is commendable.

Staffing resources have meant trade mark searches are restricted to identical/near identical searches and for word marks only which is far from an ideal situation when examination and registration is taking some time. It is something that will have to be lived with for the time being, but hopefully the Office is moving in the right direction. A useful development is that accelerated examination of trade mark applications has been made available since January, although this is only available in case of alleged infringement of the trade mark.

Kosovo does have an active Customs authority and it allows for trade marks to be recorded with them. They recently destroyed a number of counterfeited products of the Slovenian soap company, Ilirija, which demonstrates positive action. OK, the cynics amongst you will suggest this is due to large amounts of pressure from the EU, but let us not be begrudging in giving Kosovar Customs some credit.

When it comes to North Kosovo, this remains under the control of Serbia although there are border controls between them administered by the United Nations Interim Administration Mission in Kosovo (UNMIK) who Serbia accepts as governing its province.

Serbian trade mark registrations should therefore provide protection in North Kosovo, including Madrid Protocol designations of Serbia.

Do note that it is possible to travel from Serbia proper to Kosovo and from North Kosovo to the Republic of Kosovo at the divided town of Kosovska Mitrovica. Whilst the Republic of Kosovo may look to assert its control over North Kosovo in the future, for the time being at least you should look to get trade mark protection in both the Republic of Kosovo and Serbia if the whole Kosovar territory needs covering. Interestingly, the Serbian (pro-EU) government recently denounced a local referendum held in the North Kosovo region which might be a sign of a softening of Serbia's stance towards Kosovo in general.

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