What are European trademarks and how to protect them?

Many people know that European Union is a political and economic Union between 27 Member States. However not so many people are aware of what European trademarks are and why their protection is so important for every business operating in the EU.

In this article, I will try to give some clarification in that regard.

In general, European trademark protection has two layers. The first one covers the national trademarks in every Member State, for example, a German trademark, a French trademark etc. Many companies own such trademarks but they are suitable for situations where these companies operate only in the relevant country.

However the European Union is a Common market, that is to say, you can trade freely in every country part of it without any customs.

Because of this, the EU legislation created a second layer of trademark protection – the European trademarks that cover the territory of all EU Member States.

The reason why these marks are important for every company is that there is no need for separate trademark applications in every country. You can file only one application paying only one Patent Office fee and you will have a trademark valid in all 27 States.

This is crucial because it will allow you to enter the EU with your own registered brand while saving time and money.

But why entering the EU is so essential from a business point of view?

In a nutshell, this is the biggest and most lucrative trade and political union in the world with a population of almost 500 million people and annual GDP of 15 trillion dollars in 2020, representing around 1/6 of the global economy.

If you do business in the EU or you consider doing that in the future, entering this market with a brand requires good preparation. The reason on one hand is that without a registered trademark, your brand can be copied from other competitors and your options for legal defense will be more limited.

On other hand, as a general rule of thumb, every trademark is valid only for the territory where it is registered. This means that if you have a registration for your brand name only in your country when you enter the EU without preparation, you may face legal conflicts with owners of earlier already registered identical or similar marks in Europe. Bear in mind that there are millions of registered marks in the EU.

To escape such negative consequences you need to know how and to what extent your trademark can be protected in the EU in advance.

I will give you one simple example. Let’s say we have a US company entering the EU market for sports shoes with a brand that is registered in the US only.

The fact that this company has a US mark doesn’t mean that this protection will cover European Union automatically. The company needs to file trademark applications for every single country where it wants to operate. For the EU this can happen based on one application that will cover the entire Union instead of filing 27 separate applications for every country

What are the risks if the company skips this step and starts using its brand without initial checking what is the situation and without filing a trademark application?

Well, there are two main possibilities that can occur:

  1. The First one is to start using the relevant brand without any issues, that is to say, no one else has a similar mark for shoes in the EU. You would think that this solves all problems. Not at all. Even without initial conflicts if you miss registering a trademark for your brand it is possible for someone else to copy your brand and to register it for the same products. Bear in mind that in the EU trademark protection arises based on a registration in contrast with the US where it arises based on the real market use. If this scenario happens, you will need to go through complex legal procedures in order to protect your brand name if this is possible at all because sometimes the conflicting mark can be registered in good faith.
  2. The second option is for the company to face legal conflicts with owners of already registered similar marks immediately. This will mean that not only the company won’t be able to register its trademark but it can be treated as a trademark infringer and its business in the EU can be jeopardised.

Because of all of this, it is quite important in case you want to operate in the EU to do your homework in advance, which means to conduct a preliminary trademark search whether there are earlier similar marks and to file a trademark application in time.

In case you want to learn more, including how to register a European trademark on your own, check this new Udemy course: The Complete Course on How to Protect European Trademarks.

In this course, you will learn the most essential moments related to European trademarks protection, including

  • What can be registered as a European trademark?
  • How does this protection arise?
  • What is the difference between a European trademark and a national trademark in a single EU Member State?
  • What are the requirements for protection?
  • What is the procedure for registration?
  • How can you register an EU trademark?
  • For how long will this protection be valid?
  • What will cost you to register such a trademark?
  • And some rules on how to maintain this protection in the time.
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