Live and let apply

During a tumultuous week that saw the UK commit to an exit from the EU, the ECTA 35th Annual Conference revelled in its own changes, both internal and external

The European Communities Trade Mark Association’s 35th Annual Conference in Dubrovnik between 22 and 25 June saw the location of next year’s event and the new second vice president confirmed.

The 2017 annual meeting will be held in Budapest, Hungary, between 28 June and 1 July, and with F Peter Müller stepping aside and Ruta Olmane taking over as president, Anette Rasmussen was unanimously elected as second vice president.

Rasmussen was previously a member of ECTA’s law committee and has served as vice chair of the European IP Office (EUIPO) link committee.

ECTA’s new leadership team is now set, with Sozos-Christos Theodoulou taking over as first vice president, in a position to move up to president in 2018.

Müller, meanwhile, was recommended to become a member of the advisory board on the European Cooperation Projects, an EUIPO initiative aimed at promoting convergence of practices and tools in trademarks and designs.

In that role, Müller would advise the EUIPO and EU member states on the allocation of funds on cooperation and conversion projects.

The keynote speech came from Emil Tedeschi, president and CEO of Atlantic Grupa, a food company with significant presences in Croatia, Germany, Slovenia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Serbia and Macedonia.

Tedeschi said that his company was founded on partnerships with brands such as Wrigley, whose products Atlantic went on to distribute. Today, Atlantic distributes products on behalf of major global brands. But the company needs to begin producing and distributing its own brands if it wants to grow, Tedeschi said.

“It’s very difficult to do brands from scratch,” Tedeschi admitted. To overcome this, Atlantic embarked on a series of acquisitions, including homemade fruit and vegetable specialist Foodland in 2015. Atlantic’s own brands now account for 68 percent of its annual revenue, which has reached €750 million per year.

Tedeschi told attendees that Atlantic is aiming to create a globally successful food brand, on a par with Italy’s pizza, for example, with red pepper spread, which he hopes will become widely synonymous with the Adriatic region.

Tedeschi’s experience has shown that while such brands could have attractive packaging or a particular recipe, the key to making them global successes is invoking emotion in the consumer.

EUIPO executive director António Campinos told attendees that the changes brought by the trademark reform package, which passed earlier this year, including the renaming of his own agency, are only the beginning. “Change does not stop there,” he said.

Campinos pointed to the debates that raged only a few years ago when the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement, intended to strengthen the hand of IP owners, were resoundly defeated in the US and EU, respectively.

Then, he said, there were many negative feelings towards the value of IP. “Now the tide is turning in the debate,” he explained.

EUIPO’s European Observatory on Infringements of IP Rights has conducted a range of studies into how IP affects EU citizens.

The observatory recently surveyed almost 9,000 small and medium-sized enterprises in Europe to uncover how they use IP rights to support their businesses, with some 60 percent saying that protecting their rights had a positive effect on their businesses.

These studies indicate that appreciation for the value of IP is increasing, Campinos said, but they are also revealing that IP is increasingly being disrespected, with the same SME survey singling out the prevention of copying as the main reason for registering IP rights in the first place.

Another survey, conducted earlier this year in conjunction with the OECD, put the value of trade in fake goods in the hundreds of billions of US dollars, equal to the GDP of some countries.

“It is common knowledge now that IP and innovation are essential,” Campinos said, with the EUIPO seeing EU trademark filings spike in the first six months of 2016. National IP offices are enjoying similar demand, meaning that heightened interest in IP rights is a global trend.

As a result, IP offices such as EUIPO have a duty to improve their service for users, Campinos said. The EUIPO has invested in new technology and systems, and is increasingly moving its service online in a bid to meet user appetites. Most EU trademarks are now filed electronically, he said, with prosecution taking 20 weeks to occur.

The most talked-about change brought about by the trademark reform package was the removal of the graphical representation requirement during trademark prosecution. New ECTA president Ruta Olmane described the removal in an interview published in the ECTA Daily as “an innovation”.

She explained: “It was always a challenge to graphically represent a trademark, so removing the requirement should ease the application process. However, it will bring its own challenges because it’s completely new. It will be interesting to see how the EUIPO and national IP offices go about implementation. For example, how will they allow for searching without graphical representation? It is very much an innovation.”

“The world is changing and non-traditional trademarks represent an exciting opportunity for brands.”

The removal of the graphical representation requirement will require careful attention, added a speaker from the European Commission during the conference. This will include the implementation of secondary legislation and guidance from the Court of Justice of the EU on how it will work with specific marks, particularly non-traditional ones.
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