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MIND THE UK GAP! – Brexit and UK trade marks

Can I enforce my EUTM (or my registered Community Design) in the United Kingdom after the UK leaves the EU on 29 March 2019? UK traders as well as others who do business in the UK need to be aware that they could face a serious gap in protection if the UK should leave the EU in March 2019 without agreement.

If you are the owner of a EUTM (i.e. EU Trade Mark) filing or registration without being the holder of a separate UK national trade mark or design filing, you are not alone but you should consider how to avoid suffering a post-Brexit gap in protection.

There are literally thousands of businesses who have protected their brands across the EU by means of a single EUTM filing which, upon registration, affords protection throughout the territory of the EU, including of course the UK. A key benefit of the EUTM is that with just one trade mark filing before the EUIPO, your brand is protected across the EU rather than needing to register your brand in each of the 28 EU member states separately. The savings upon registration are substantial (running to thousands of pounds) and there is just one renewal fee payable to the EUIPO at the end of each ten-year protection period.

In fact, the EUTM has been so successful, that many UK traders and businesses have opted for EUTM registration only, not seeking separate UK national trade mark or design registration.

However, with the departure of the UK from the EU approaching in March 2019, many traders face a potential risk of having no brand or design protection in the UK in the event of a so-called no-deal Brexit. This is because, without an agreed departure, EUTM registrations and registered Community Designs (RCDs) will simply cease to have effect in the UK after 29 March 2019. Should that happen, traders who do not have separate national UK registration would not enjoy protection in the UK. So, for example, they would not be able to take action against infringers here in the UK.

It is for this reason, that many traders and businesses are taking action now to protect their brands in the UK. The current timeframe for achieving registration of a trade mark in the UK is about 3-4 months. Assuming no serious registry objection or opposition, it should be possible to obtain registration from the UKIPO if the necessary trade mark application is filed before the end of 2018. Of course, filings made in early 2019 are likely to achieve registration shortly after Brexit Day (29 March 2019). However, to ensure that you do not suffer a gap in protection, the sooner you file for UK registration the better.

Here at the Trademark Hub, we have a wealth of experience in helping the full spectrum of brand owners – from sole traders and SMEs through to multinationals – to search, protect, and enforce their brands and designs both in the UK, in Europe, and around the world. We are always happy to answer your questions, including working with you to register your trade marks in the UK and so ensure you can avoid a Brexit gap.

Brexit and my IP

Our clients frequently ask us about the consequences of Brexit (the UK’s departure from the EU) for their intellectual property (“IP”), including for their trade marks and designs. In the first of a series of articles, we outline the possible consequences of Brexit for your IP rights generally and for your trade marks, in particular.

Brexit and my Trade marks

Any person or company owning an EU Trademark (EUTM) should review its position in light of the UK’s departure from the EU in March 2019. Although the current proposal is that EUTM filings will split in two parts – a separate UK filing as well as an EUTM right covering the remaining 27 member states – in the event of a co-called “no-deal” Brexit, EUTMs would cease to have effect in the UK after 29 March 2019. Unless you already have a separate UK registration, a no-deal Brexit would mean an immediate loss of protection after this date.

Sufficient use of EUTMs

Another aspect of this relates to the “use” requirement for trade marks. To remain validly registered, an EUTM must be used in the EU for at least some of the protected products or services. There is some legal uncertainty as to what this means exactly but it seems reasonable to assume that use in the UK or in the UK + another EU state (e.g. Ireland) would be enough to defend an EUTM from a non-use attack. However, after the UK leaves the EU, a business may suddenly find that it does not have sufficient use of its EUTM elsewhere in the EU to meet the legal use requirement. In such a case, EU-wide protection could be lost.

Registered Community Design (RCDs)

A Registered Community Design (RCD) provides design protection across the EU. The types of designs which can be protected are very wide-ranging. It includes cars, toys, household appliances and, for example, decoration applied to such items of clothing and fashion items. After the UK leaves the EU, however, an RCD will no longer be enforceable in the UK. If a business designs and markets any product – from fashion to household furniture – it will need to know how to protect the designs in the UK after Brexit.

Domain names: .eu designation

If you are the company owner of .eu domain names, you should review your domain name portfolio to make sure that it is Brexit-proof. After Brexit, it is not clear whether a UK company will be allowed to own a .eu domain name. Businesses and companies with .eu domain names should review their domain names and decide whether to transfer ownership into an entity situated within the European Economic Area (the EEA currently comprises the EU, Iceland, Norway, and Liechtenstein).

Contracts

The precise impact of Brexit on contracts is likely to be dealt with in the UK/EU Brexit withdrawal agreements. In relation to IP, traders will need to know what effect Brexit will have on their IP licences and agreements. For example, what happens where an existing licence covers “the territory of the EU”? After Brexit, will that be deemed to include or exclude the UK? If a settlement agreement with a competitor provides that they agree to do one thing or not do another thing “in the EU”, will they be allowed to do that in the UK post-Brexit? It will be important too to make sure that any agreements or licences which are negotiated in the period leading up to March 2019 deal with the effect of the UK’s departure from the EU.

Acting now

The UKIPO has reported a substantial rise in the number of UK trade mark filings since the referendum in June 2016. Traders are acting now to protect their intellectual property (IP) rights rather than passively awaiting the outcome of the Brexit talks.

While it is of course hoped that the Brexit withdrawal settlement will make provision for the re-registration of European Union Trade Marks (EUTMs) and of Registered Community Designs (RCDs) before the UKIPO, the fact is that if the UK and EU should fail to reach agreement, all EUTMs and all RCDs would automatically cease to have effect in the UK after 29 March 2019. Given the potential loss of protection of EUTMs or RCDs in the UK, we are advising clients to ensure that they do not suffer any gap in protection after 29 March 2018. The best way to achieve this is to ensure you have separate UK national registration of your trade marks and designs and, at the least, UK national registration of your key brands.

Here at the Trademark Hub, we have a wealth of experience in helping the full spectrum of brand owners – from sole traders and SMEs through to multinationals – to search, protect, and enforce their brands and designs both in the UK, in Europe, and around the world. We are always happy to answer your questions, including working with you to protect your IP against the effects of Brexit, with or without a UK/EU Brexit deal.

So, what happens to the EU trade mark if Brexit happens?

EU and UK flag, what happens to trade marks in case of Brexit

The upcoming European Union (EU) referendum is, as expected, dominating the news. The financial markets have been reacted badly to a strong possibility of a British exit, or Brexit, from the EU. There are a lot of questions that have been raised over various matters relating to this ‘Brexit’. What will happen to trade, travel and in our specific case trade marks if Britain decides to leave the EU.

As many others have stated, there is great uncertainty in regards to what will happen post Brexit. We are also not clear of the exact changes that will occur, but we can speculate like all others have or are doing so.

One thing is for certain, a vote for Brexit will have significant implications for trade marks. In this post, we’ll try to answer the questions which you might have albeit speculatively.

Would EU trade marks still apply to the UK?

In simple words, no.

However, post Brexit, there will a long period of negotiation in which the British government would negotiate all matters with the EU. Either party might provide new legislations to continue the protection of existing EU trade marks in the UK, but that all depends on the negotiations that will be undertaken. If there are no new legislations provided, then all companies trading in the UK would be required to file a national application. That is if they only had a EU trade mark.

It is understood that the provisions and regulations provided by the EU Intellectual Property Office (IPO) will no longer be in effect so any new EU trade mark applications will not cover UK.

Can UK trade mark attorneys represent clients before the EU IPO?

Again, that would be a no.

The Institute of Trade Mark Attorney (ITMA) has suggested that a large amount the EU trade mark and design registration work will be moved to mainland Europe from the UK. The following effects have been listed:

  • UK-based trade mark practitioners would be unlikely to file EU Trade Marks/EU designs because they would be unable to represent clients before the EU Intellectual Property Office, unless the UK was to join the European Economic Area.
  • Over time UK trade mark and design law would diverge from EU law

A change in the law and removal of EU trade mark courts from the UK would most likely be the end of EU IPO work for UK based trade mark law firms and attorneys.

Will there be any changes to the cost?

Apart from the increase in costs of filing a UK and an EU trade mark separately, the costs ought to remain the same for the UK and EU trade mark.

The same rules would apply to design registration in the EU.

As stated above, we are speculating the changes that might occur as a result of a Brexit. There is a great deal of uncertainty, which is making everyone jittery. ITMA has stated that this will have a negative effect on trade mark attorneys in the UK and the process would become more complex. However, there might be an increase in UK trade mark filings post a brexit, which could help ease the long term negative impact.