24 June 2016

Brexit and trademarks

The United Kingdom has decided in yesterday's referendum that it will leave the European Union.

Personally, I'm gutted. Having lived and worked on the continent, I regard myself as a Europhile. It may be a great shame that our younger people may not have so many opportunities to live and work in Europe.

There will be an impact on trademarks. What exactly needs to be determined? For now we do not need to worry.

The Prime Minister has indicated that he will stand down and it is his replacement who will submit the Article 50 request to the European Union that begins the formal withdrawal process. Indications are that this will take place in October and the withdrawal process will have a two-year negotiating period once submitted.

I think there's a chance of another General Election in the intervening period. This means we could be looking at between two-two and a half years before EU trademarks will no longer cover the UK.

Furthermore, I understand this negotiating period is extendable if agreed by both parties - a "cooling-off" period in trademark terms, I suppose.

Automatic re-registration?

What will happen to EU trademark (and design) registrations once the UK does leave the EU?

My hunch is that they will automatically continue to cover the UK. My reasons are:

1. There are so many of them that having a formal revalidation process would be a burden on UK IPO resources.
2. EU trademarks are searchable on the UK IPO's systems so it should be a fairly straightforward task to convert/duplicate them to become UK national registrations.
3. As for EU designations in International registrations, it should be possible, working with WIPO, to organise automatic 'Continuation of Effects' to the UK.
4. They would not want to discriminate UK businesses by making them pay to revalidate EU trademarks which they legitimately obtained thinking they had the UK covered.
5. It's certainly arguable that the UK IPO could lose out on a windfall that could be generated by a formal revalidation process, but I would argue that this would be a temporary spike (and the Office would need temporary staff for this) whereas they can bring in extra fees in a more managed way as registrations fall due for renewal and get assigned.

Reverse seniority?

I wonder if there is a need to allow seniority claims to be reversed so where an EU registration has claimed seniority from a UK registration then this UK registration can be reinstated (presuming it has since lapsed).

This may be beneficial in the case of very old prior rights where the corresponding EU registration does not date back as far. This could carry official fees for the UKIPO as I believe they would require examination. Whether such requests can restore the specification of the original UK registration or can only comprise that which is included in the EU registration (where they are different) would be a question to be answered in this eventuality.

From a practical point of view, an automatic revalidation process would negate the need to request "reverse seniority" in the vast majority of cases.

EEA and representatives

We wait to see if the UK's withdrawal from the EU will also be a withdrawal from the European Economic Area. If it remains in the EEA then the impacts on the management of trademarks will be less.

If it decides to leave the EEA then things may change more. Currently, only an Address for Service in the EEA is required for trademark matters before the UK IPO. Leave the EEA and the rules may change so that an Address for Service is in the UK only. In practice this would not be a big deal as the vast majority of Addresses for Service for UK national registrations are in the UK already, as opposed to other EEA countries. (Disclaimer: this is based on my regular scouring of the Trade Marks Journal and Register, and not on a detailed analysis of Addresses for Service.)

However, this could scupper any plans to automatically duplicate the EU Register to the UK as a large number of EU trademarks have IP representatives in other EEA countries. Perhaps these could be left be, with a UK Address for Service only needing to be appointed when there's subsequent dealings with the UK IPO.

UK Professional Representatives

Leave the EEA and the ability of UK Professional Representatives to act before the EUIPO (and other EU Offices) could be impacted. The Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys has indicated that they will "be calling on the UK Government to ensure that UK practitioners remain entitled to represent clients before the European Union Intellectual Property Office."

If UK Professional Representatives can no longer act before the EUIPO then this lucrative strand of work will go elsewhere, firms in Germany, Ireland and the big IP units near Alicante likely destinations in my view.

If they can continue representing though then they will be well placed to continue the UK's strong level of representation before the EUIPO. Such work could also be supplemented by corresponding UK filings too.

However, we may see a change in filing strategy. If the UK is an added country to consider in filing programmes then the attractiveness of an International trademark may increase. The rationale being the more countries to be covered, the more attractive it is to use.

Scotland

In Scotland the people were in favour of remaining in the European Union. This may now lead to another Scottish referendum and further implications to trademarks. I've blogged previously on what could happen in this event.

Gibraltar and Northern Ireland

Gibraltar (overwhelmingly) and Northern Ireland (much more narrowly) also voted to remain in the European Union - the out votes of England, in particular, and Wales tipping the balance towards leave.

Politically I cannot see Northern Ireland looking to go it alone or look to instead form a part of a united Ireland and so will find itself alongside England and Wales (with or without Scotland).

Gibraltar is unlikely to make a bid for independence or accept co-hegemony from Spain (as the Spanish Government was keen to offer early on). Its local trademark system currently allows for the re-registration of UK or EU trademarks, but they may close the door on EU trademarks (which have more doubtful enforceability anyway).

Jersey

The Channel Island of Jersey lies outside of the European Union and its citizens were not entitled to vote in the referendum.

However, their trademark legislation allows for the automatic protection of EU trademarks to the island (i.e. without the need to re-register them locally). Conversely, UK national registrations must go through a formal re-registration process and get a local registration.

They would need to change their local law to stop EU trademarks providing protection to Jersey. I understand discussions in recent years saw them happy with the status quo but the UK's withdrawal from the EU may make them revisit this issue and we could perhaps anticipate an entirely revamped trademark law in Jersey (neighbouring Guernsey has taken its own route and runs a very efficient Registry).

Conclusion

Nothing changes overnight. There is no need to take action just yet. I think by "pro-actively" filing in the UK now then you may end up with duplicate UK registrations in the future. Keep your ears and eyes open as things become clearer.

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