This article entitled ‘What is a Community Trademark (CTM)?’ provides an overview of the community trademark system and outlines the advantages and disadvantages of using the community trademark system to obtain European trademark protection.
A community trademark or CTM is a cost effective route to obtain European trademark protection. It is a single registration that covers all 27 European Union Member States, namely:
- Benelux (Belgium, the Netherlands and Luxembourg)
- Czech Republic
- Slovak Republic
The community trademark system is administered by the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) in Alicante, Spain. The community trademark was established in 1996.
A community trademark registration confers a monopoly right upon its proprietor to prevent unauthorized third party use of an identical or confusingly similar trademark in relation to overlapping or related goods and/or services to those covered by the registration. This use includes affixing an infringing trademark to goods or their packaging, offering goods for sale, supplying services, importing or exporting and also, use in advertising or on business papers. A community trademark registration is a cost effective and powerful weapon to police your brand and protect the investment and reputation that your business has built.
Advantages of a community trademark include:
- Pan-European trademark protection under cover of a single registration;
- The community trademark system is cost effective. The cost of a community trademark registration is usually less than the cost of filing two or three national trademark registrations in European Union Member States;
- Administration is simplified by having a single European trademark registration, rather than a bundle of national rights that have to be watched and maintained individually;
- Renewal costs are reduced considerably by not having to renew corresponding national trademark registrations, if “seniority” is claimed from these registrations in the community trademark registration;
- In the event of successful challenge or refusal, a community trademark application or registration can be “converted” into national trademark applications, retaining the filing date of the parent community trademark;
- Presently, use of a community trademark registration in one European Union Member State will defeat an action for revocation on the grounds of non-use;
- When the European Union enlarges, a community trademark registration automatically extends to the new countries. At the moment, there are three candidate countries – Croatia, Turkey and the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia; and
- The community trademark registration can be designated under cover of an International (Madrid Protocol) Registration and a community trademark can act as the “basis” for an International (Madrid Protocol) Registration.
Disadvantages of a community trademark include:
- A community trademark is a “unitary” right, i.e. it is “all or nothing”. Successful challenge in one of the 27 European Union Member States will defeat the community trademark application or registration in its entirety;
- On account of its “unitary” nature, a community trademark registration has to be assigned in totality. It cannot be assigned for particular countries;
- Levels of opposition against community trademark applications are relatively high because the community trademark office does not block later community trademark applications at the examination stage; and
- As a result of the absence of a prior rights examination, it is all the more important for trademark owners to monitor the filing and publication of conflicting third party community trademark applications. Without vigilance and independent trademark watches, conflicting community trademark registrations could slip through to grant undetected.
In summary, the community trademark is a widely used and cost efficient tool to secure protection for your trademarks and brand names across the European Union in a single hit.
Before filing a community trademark application, it is advisable to carry out trademark searches. Various search packages are available, involving different levels of investigation. Searches for identical trademarks can be conducted in certain Member States for free using publically available databases. Your trademark attorney will be able to advise upon the most appropriate searching and filing strategy for your trademarks.
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