Brexit and intellectual property – a guide
The UK has now left the EU, following a transition period that ended on 31 December 2020. In contrast to the position in a number of industries, the position in relation to IP rights has been relatively smooth. The UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) has created and entered into its database the comparable rights based on EU trade mark and design registrations which were all in place as of Exit Day. The Office is continuing to work on comparable rights created from EU designations filed via the Madrid or Hague systems and appears to be making good progress. The UKIPO should be commended for this, particularly in view of the current working conditions.
The owner of an earlier mark which had been recognised as famous in China was unsuccessful in an opposition to an EUTM application based on prior registrations of variants on that mark. However, they subsequently succeeded in a cancellation action, in which they alleged that the Registrant (originally from China) must have been aware of their mark and had acted in bad faith in registering it.
A recent decision of the General Court demonstrates that the distinctiveness of a trade mark must be assessed in relation to the specific goods or services for which registration is sought. Hästens Sängar AB (which does business simply as “Hastens”) is a Swedish manufacturer specialising in beds, bedlinen, pillows and accessories. Hasten’s products have long featured a blue and white check pattern, which was apparently created in 1978 by the father of the current owner and executive chairman of the company. This check pattern is used on Hastens’ beds, mattresses and bed linen, as well as on clothing and other accessories. Hastens has registered the check pattern in Sweden and has sought to protect it by various means in many other territories. On 21 December 2016 Hastens applied to register a copyright claim in the US in a repeating “two-dimensional graphic pattern consisting of white, dark blue, medium blue and light blue rectangles arranged in a check pattern”.
So, it’s finally happening. At 11pm (UK time) tonight, 31 January 2020, the UK is leaving the EU – whether or not Big Ben bongs to ring out the changes. And what changes will there be on the IP front? The short answer, in the short term, is: absolutely none. EU law will continue to operate in the UK during the transition period, exactly as it currently does. The transition period will be from 1 February 2020 – 31 December 2020 unless an extension is obtained, which the Prime Minister has promised will not happen. The IP system will therefore continue as it currently does in the UK and the EU until at least the end of this year, without any disruption or changes.
“Possibly the least poetic reason to ever make some art” – Banksy and the Gross Domestic Product Store
October 2019 saw the opening (and closing) of graffiti artist Banksy’s pop–up shop, Gross Domestic Product, in Croydon. According to the artist, the main motivation behind the opening of the store was, “possibly the least poetic reason to ever make some art” – a trade mark dispute.
A recent decision of the General Court provides a useful review of the requirements for proving genuine use of a mark, and also shows that use of a mark in a single Member State of the EU may be sufficient to prove genuine use of an EUTM. This has been the subject of some controversy over the years, with many cases demonstrating that even quite substantial use in a single Member State will not necessarily be sufficient where an EUTM is concerned.
The EUIPO has faced a number of problems over the years in connection with acceptable specifications for EUTM applications.