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Trade mark protection in the EU

Trade mark registration is one of the most effective ways to build and defend a brand. In Europe, trade marks can be registered at national level as a national trade mark or at EU-level as a European Union trade mark. The European Commission continually monitors the trade mark system in the EU to identify ways to improve its effectiveness and accessibility for businesses.

What are trade marks?

A trade mark is a sign which distinguishes the goods and services of one company from those of another. As indicators of business origin, trade marks can be words, logos, devices or other distinctive features, or a combination of these. They can also be referred to as 'brands'.

A trade mark can become one of a company’s most important assets. It is the mark through which a business can attract and retain customer loyalty, and create value and growth. The trade mark works in this case as an engine of innovation as the necessity to keep it relevant promotes investments in R&D, which in turn leads to a continuous process of product improvement and development. This dynamic process also has a favourable impact on employment.

According to the findings of a joint study between the former Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM. Now the European Union Intellectual Property Office) and the European Patent Office (EPO) published in September 2013, almost 21% of all jobs in the EU during the period 2008 to 2010 (i.e. the jobs of around 45.5 million Europeans) were created by trade mark-intensive industries. Over the same period, these industries were shown to have generated almost 34% of total economic activity (GDP) in the EU, worth EUR 4.16 trillion.

Registering a trade mark is a way to ensure that no one else uses it.

Dual system of protection in the EU

There are two main ways to register a trade mark in the EU. They can either be registered at national level at the industrial property offices of EU countries, or at EU level as a ‘European Union trade mark’ (EUTM) at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

National and EUTMs coexist and are complementary to each other. The same trade mark can be registered at EU and/or national level. The EUTM system consists of one single registration procedure that grants the owner an exclusive right in all 28 EU countries. This dual system meets the requirements of companies of different sizes, markets and geographical presence. National trade marks may be better for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or local firms who don’t need EU-wide protection. The laws governing national trade mark registration in the EU were first harmonised in 1989. The EU trade mark was created in 1994.

Reform of the trade mark system

In 2009, the Commission launched a review of the European trade mark system. A comprehensive study showed that while the foundations of the system remained valid, there was potential to make it even more effective and user-friendly. In 2013, the Commission proposed a modernisation that aimed to upgrade and streamline current legislation to make trade mark registration systems across the EU more accessible and efficient for businesses in terms of lower costs and complexity, increased speed, greater predictability and legal security. In April 2015, the European Parliament, the Council and the Commission reached a provisional political agreement on this reform. After the adoption of a first reading position by the Council on 10 November 2015, the European Parliament finally approved the trade marks reform package on 15 December 2015.

Studies

Study on the Overall Functioning of the European Trade Mark System

This study, by the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property and Competition Law, was a contribution to the Commission’s review of the functioning of the trade mark system in Europe. This review formed the basis for the revision of the trade mark system proposed by the Commission in March 2013.