For the last 21 years, businesses from EU-member states were able to register a single trademark that was deemed valid by the EU Trademark Registration (EUTM) in all 26 countries (or 28 since 2014).
Britain’s imminent withdrawal from the European Union, however, has thrown a seed of uncertainty among trademark owners across the region.
Under the current directives, registering trademarks with the EUTM gives business entities and entrepreneurs that want to trade in multiple EU-states a distinct advantage.
Brexit, however, could foil the long-term plans of many European businesses where intellectual property is concerned. The big question is whether the UK will accept EU trademarks once the Withdrawal Agreement is signed.
Should that be the case, EU companies will have to register for a single trademark in the EU and a separate one for the UK market. It is possible that UK nationals will also have to re-register trademarks already recognised in the EU.
Early Brexit signs on trademarks
The latest draft of Article 50 released on 19th March offered a glimmer of good news. The current version indicates the UK government will accept trademarks and industrial designs registered before the country officially leaves the European Union.
However, nine senior members of Parliament have called for significant amendments to be made to the Withdrawal Agreement. We don’t know whether the changes will be related to trademarks and patents, but we don’t know they won’t be either. A deadline for June has been set for amendments to be made.
The early signs are that trademarks registered before Britain officially leaves Europe should be allowed to stand. However, it does seem likely that British and EU legal practices will be independent of each other after the split.
Harmonisation of intellectual property laws has proved beneficial over the last two decades. Radical changes in the field could present complications. At the moment, changes seem unlikely but it is likely there will be a deadline for registering trademarks under the current protocol.
The UK is obliged to uphold copyright law under international treaties, so there will not be any changes in that regard. However, if the UK want to introduce their own IP laws, there will probably be extra paperwork to complete in the future.
After Brexit, companies contemplating an entry into the UK market may not be able to go through the EUTM to protect brands and product designs. Separate registration will probably be required in the UK and the EU – which will mean additional costs.
The same rule will also apply for UK businesses looking to expand into the European market.
For the time being, your intellectual property is safe. The deadline for registering trademarks in the UK (and vice versa) with the EUTM is 2020. In the meantime, if you have any doubts, it is advisable to seek advice from one of our experts in international trademark law.