22 April 2013

Irregularity Notices from WIPO - International Applications

I have sung the praises of WIPO's Madrid Highlights publication in the past (for example, see here).

Their latest issue and their first of 2013 has recently issued. It contains information collated over the previous three months, such as the notification issued by the Syrian Trade Marks Office.

I would like to bring attention to readers of this blog to the 'Madrid Tips - Practical Examples on the Implementation of the Madrid System' section. In this issue WIPO explore Rule 13 of the Common Regulations.

This relates to the WIPO Irregularity Notices they can issue regarding the classification of goods or services. These are somewhat unusual so if you do not have much experience of the system, or tend to file standard specifications (that are always acceptable) then WIPO's questions and answers could be quite useful for you in case you receive such an Irregularity Notice.

I copy WIPO's questions but have adapted the language of the answers to be (possibly) more user-friendly and less "WIPO-speak" in case this could be helpful. Of course, the original WIPO text can be found in the Madrid Highlights publication.

Whenever WIPO considers that the classification of goods and services in an International application is incorrect, it will notify the Office of origin (your Trade Marks Office, where you filed the International application) and inform the applicant (or representative).

However, the responsibility for remedying this irregularity lies with your Trade Marks Office, which may, within three months from the notification, make a proposal for remedying the irregularity.

Q1. I am the applicant of an international application. I have received an irregularity letter indicating that a term of the list of goods and services is too vague for the purposes of classification. The letter also states that the irregularity is to be remedied by the Office of Origin. What does it mean?
R1. This means that WIPO considers that a term used in the list of goods and services is not
sufficiently clear for the purposes of classification. When this happens, WIPO notifies your Trade Marks Office and informs you, the applicant (or representative). WIPO may suggest either a substitute term or the deletion of the term. Your Trade Marks Office may, within three months of the notification, make a proposal to remedy the irregularity.

Q2. Is any action required on my part as the applicant (or representative) of the international application concerned?
R2. There is no action required from you in this case. However, you, as the applicant (or representative), may communicate your views regarding the irregularity to your Trade Marks Office, or your Trade Marks Office may seek your views.

Q3. What options has the Office of origin to reply to the irregularity?
R3. Your Trade Marks Office may respond to the irregularity as follows:
  • Agree to accept any suggestion which WIPO may have made, then the term will be changed accordingly.
  • Disagree with any suggestions. Then, your Trade Marks Office may respond to the irregularity by submitting a new proposal. 
If the new proposal is acceptable to WIPO, then the term will be changed accordingly.

If the new proposal is unacceptable to WIPO within the three-month time limit, there are two
possibilities:
  • If a class number has been indicated for the term in question, the term will be included in the international application as filed, with an indication stating that, in the opinion of WIPO, the term is too vague for the purposes of classification (this indication may not be deleted from the International Register at a later stage).
  • If a class number has not been indicated for the term in question, it will be deleted and WIPO will notify your Trade Marks Office and inform the applicant (or representative) accordingly.
Q4. What happens if the Office of origin does not reply to the irregularity?
R4. If your Trade Marks Office does not reply to the irregularity, there are two options:
  • If a class number has been indicated for the term in question, the term will be included in the international application as filed, with an indication stating that, in the opinion of WIPO, the term is too vague for the purposes of classification (this indication may not be deleted from the International Register at a later stage).
  • If a class number has not been indicated for the term in question, it will be deleted and WIPO will notify your Trade Marks Office and inform the applicant (or representative) accordingly.
Q5. If the Office does not reply, can I reply in its place?
R5. No! You may communicate your views regarding the irregularity letter to your Trade Marks Office, but you cannot respond to the irregularity directly to WIPO. The reply to the irregularity must be sent to WIPO through your Trade Marks Office within the prescribed time limit.

Q6. Will I be informed of the outcome of this procedure?
R6. Yes, where the irregularity is resolved and the international application conforms to the
applicable requirements, the mark is registered in the International Register and a certificate is
issued. Furthermore, the international registration is published in the Gazette and, for
information purposes, in the ROMARIN database. You will also be informed when a non-classified term is deleted due to a non-acceptable proposal or in the absence of a reply from your Trade Marks Office.

It should be clear that the responsibility of responding to these Irregularity Notices lies with your Trade Marks Office but it is important that these are not overlooked by applicants or their representatives.

As the gatekeeper of the Nice International Classification, WIPO take a strict view to where products and services are classified.

If an Irregularity Notice is issued, do not merely docket the deadline provided by WIPO for your Trade Marks Office to respond to them. It is suggested that you docket an earlier date so you can give input to your Trade Marks Office and they can take it into account when responding to WIPO.

You will also be familiar with how your Trade Marks Office operates. Are they organised? Are they pro-active? This will help you determine if you need to get in contact with them upon receipt of an Irregularity Notice to ensure your views are heard and so they respond in good time.

This is a quirk of the Madrid system. It can leave you scratching your head if you find yourself in the strange situation where you receive an Irregularity Notice (aka Office Action) yet you cannot respond to it. Hopefully this scenario is now more clearly explained.