If you’re reading this, it’s safe to imagine that you have applied for an International Trademark, filled out all the forms, and followed the TM registration procedure, but now you are faced with a Notification of Provisional Refusal. One (or more) of the national trademark offices has found a potential problem with your application for IP protection in their country. Or, perhaps you’re looking to file a provisional refusal against a foreign company that would be infringing upon your IP.
Now, depending on the national office, the details of how exactly to oppose such a notification vary depending on the national IP office’s rules and regulations. This is the first of a [X] part, country by country guide on how to oppose to a notification of provisional refusal when registering for an International Trademark.
European Union Notice of Opposition Proceedings
When filing for an international trademark in order to protect your brand across Europe, it may be more convenient and economical to designate the EU as the protected territory instead of individual countries. The manner in which the EUIPO deals with such a designation differs to other countries such as the UK, where the procedure is dealt with nationally.
When the EUIPO receives an application through the WIPO, it will publish the requested trademark’s details in the EUTM Bulletin in Part M, which is dedicated entirely to international TM registrations. Once published through the Bulletin, the EUIPO will:
1. Prepare search reports (which, if you wish to access them, you will have to request a copy).
2. Conduct an examination of various formalities that may be relevant to your particular application.
3. Conduct an examination of potential absolute grounds for refusal and of any oppositions that are placed by pre-existing trademark holders within the EU.
We will focus on the procedure for any notice of opposition (or provisional refusal). EU trademark holders will have 3 months from the publication of the application in the EUTM Bulletin to file an opposition – this 3-month period starts exactly 1 months after the application has been published in the Bulletin.
If the EUIPO accepts the notice of opposition, then a notification of provisional refusal is sent to the WIPO, where the applicant will consequently be notified. At this moment, the need for a European representative may arise. This would occur if the applicant is not domiciled within the European Economic Area (EEA).
Once the opposition has been admitted by the EUIPO, the applicant and opponent will have to follow the EU procedure for notices of opposition.
United Kingdom notification of provisional refusal
The UK is a historic world economy that has always hosted a vast array of businesses, so it would come as no surprise if you were to be looking to protect your IP in Britain. In the UK, two key pieces of legislation are the Trade Marks Act 1994 and the Trade Marks Rules 2008. Once the application has been accepted by the IPO, it will be published in the UK IP Journal.
In the UK, the notification of provisional refusal is referred to as a notice of opposition, much like when registering for an EU Trademark.
From the date of publishing, any pre-existing trademark holder may, within a period of 2 months, file a notice of opposition by filling out Form TM7, being sure to pay special attention to the grounds of opposition. This should clearly explain the reasons for which you are opposing the trademark registration – whenever reinforced by sound legal arguments, even better. The IPO registrar would then communicate this notice to the applicant.
The applicant will then have to file a counterstatement through Form TM8 within 2 months of the Notification Date. However, if both parties agree, they may opt-in for a ‘cooling-off period’ of 9 months, which can be extended another 9 months through Form TM9c, also within 2 months of the date of notification. This period would give the parties time to negotiate with each other and come to some sort of amicable agreement. If unsuccessful, the applicant files Form TM8 and the procedure continues. For the opponent, Form TM9t would be the corresponding form to end the cooling-off period.
Differences according to the type of opposition
Depending on the type of opposition made, you will then enter Evidence Rounds or receive Preliminary Indications.
If the notice of opposition results in Preliminary Indications, the Registrar will examine the case and explain to the parties what the most likely outcome will be upon reviewing the evidence. It should be noted that either party can withdraw their application or opposition at any time. If, however, one of the parties is still wanting to pursue their trademark claim, they may file Form TM53 within one month of receiving the Preliminary Indications, which will then initiate the Evidence Rounds.
For the Evidence Rounds, the opponent has 2-3 months (extendable if they convince the Registrar) to file their evidence-in-chief, starting from the date the opponent received Form TM8. This is the main legal basis of your claim against the applicant, where you may also be requested to submit evidence proving that you have been and still are using your Trademark.
Once filed in its entirety, the applicant now has 2-3 months (extendable if they convince the Registrar) to do the same, legally backing their trademark application and its validity. The opponent then has another 2 months to do respond to the applicant’s counterstatement.
The case will then be reviewed by the IPO and, if requested by either of the parties, a Hearing may be called, where the two parties argue their case before the IPO. The IPO will give their decision and that will be the end of the administrative proceedings.
However, if the final decision was unfavourable to you, it is still possible to appeal the decision. The type of appeal and the national entity responsible for hearing the appeal will vary greatly depending on the specific decision.
To give one example, if you are the applicant appealing against an unfavourable decision that has ultimately rejected your trademark application, you can submit Form TM55 within 28 days of the decision in question. This, however, might not be the right procedure for you. You can find out more about the appeals process here.
If you would like to speak with a lawyer experienced in these proceedings in order to have the best chance possible of winning your claim, please do get in touch.Read More
When filing for an EU Trademark to protect your brand, you might receive a Notice of Opposition from the EUIPO. You might be worried about this. Maybe you’re asking yourself: What is a notice of opposition? What can I do to register my trademark now? How can I make sure that my brand is protected in the EU? In this article, we will explain what a Notice of Opposition is and how to deal with it to ensure that you protect your IP.
First, let’s remind ourselves of the application process for EU trademarks.
Recap of EU Trademark Application Process
We must remember that once you have sent your application away, the EUIPO examiner will analyze it and look for any problems. If provisionally approved, your application will be published in the EU Trade Marks Bulletin for all to see. Any party that already owns a registered trademark now has 3 months to file a Notice of Opposition, which will prevent you from being granted protection for your trademark.
What is a Notice of Opposition?
A Notice of Opposition filed by a preregistered EU trademark holder is a claim to the EUIPO that your future trademark infringes on their pre-existing trademark, or is too similar and could cause confusion. This must be done by the opposing party within 3 months of publication in the EU Trade Marks Bulletin.
Once the filing has been completed, and the opposing party has paid the corresponding fees, the Opposition Division of the EUIPO will examine the Notice and determine its admissibility. This admissibility test is conducted in accordance with the EU Trademark Regulation. If it passes the test, you will be advised of the Notice and the next phase of the procedure will begin.
What can I do against a Notice of Opposition?
In order to go against a Notice of Opposition, you must first know the procedure that will be followed. Firstly, there will be a 2-month period in which you may negotiate with the opposing party to try to come to some sort of arrangement. If unsuccessful, you will then have to argue before the EUIPO. These are known as the cooling-off period and the adversarial stage.
Once you have been informed of the Notice of Opposition, a 2-month period begins in which you and the opposing party may attempt to reach a friendly settlement. This is known as the ‘cooling-off’ period. If you are able to reach an agreement with the opposing party, then whatever you agree shall be established and neither side will have to pay any costs for further phases of the procedure. If, however, you are unable to come to an agreement, the adversarial stage shall begin in which you must argue with the opposing party before the EUIPO as to why your trademark should be granted protection and, more importantly, why it is not infringing on the pre-existing trademark, nor is so similar that it would cause confusion.
In this next stage, the opposing party must complete his opposition filing within 2 months of the end of the cooling-off period – the Notice of Opposition was merely provisional. Here, the opposing party will include all evidence that supports his case, as well as proving that the IP rights he is invoking from his trademark truly exist and are valid. For an extensive description of what the opposing party must file and the requirements for doing so, check the Guidelines for Examination in the Office.
Responding to the Notice of Opposition
Proof of Use
In responding to the opposition, in the case that you believe the opposing party may very well have a registered trademark, but is not actually using it, you may request proof of use. This requires the opposing party to submit additional documentation that proves that he is actively using his trademark in a commercial environment. It is essential that every trademark owner is aware that it’s using it or lose it when it comes to opposition proceedings.
Restrictions of your Trademark Application
When filing the application to register your trademark, you will have had to specify which goods and services are traded under the brand. As this could be the grounds for the Opposition in the first place, you may also decide to restrict your application in order to limit the goods and services you provide under that brand, to prevent any potential infringement of the opposing party’s protection. This would only work in specific cases in which you and the opposing party are operating in similar or overlapping sectors. It is important to mention here that the EUIPO will not accept restrictions that are conditional. The restriction must be absolute and unconditional.
Formulate a Strong Legal Argument
Make a strong legal argument behind why your trademark application is acceptable may seem rather obvious, but it is much easier said than done. There is a reason that lawyers dedicate their entire professional lives to IP law. It is an area of the law that is always changing and evolving, not to mention that it has the potential to be incredibly subjective, given that a key factor in a EUIPO decision is how similar it looks compared to the pre-existing trademark.
If you want to have the best chances at a successful trademark application, it is highly recommended to hire the services of an experienced IP lawyer to go through the process with you. At Moeller IP, we have been practicing solely IP law for nearly 100 years across the world, and there is still more to do. If you would like to clarify some doubts, please don’t hesitate to contact us right away.Read More
After jumping through all the hoops to register your international trademark, filing the application, and following various quick guides on how to do so, it can be quite concerning to receive a notification of provisional refusal, stating that your trademark, your brand, has hit an obstacle in being protected.
What can I do to protect my IP now? you might be thinking. In this article, we will go over what a provisional refusal is, why it was most likely issued, and what you can do to oppose it and protect your brand.
International TM Registration Recap
The first thing to remember is the process of international trademark registration. After being initially approved by the WIPO, the notification is then sent out to all national trademark offices belonging to Contracting Parties of the Madrid Protocol. The national offices now have up to 12 months to grant or refuse protection (18 months in certain cases). If they refuse, they must send a Notification of Provisional Refusal to the WIPO, where you will soon after receiving news of it through the Madrid Monitor. It will probably look something like this.
It is important to note that it is not a final decision, but instead, the Office must indicate the reasons for why it could likely get refused. This could be from either a negative examination by the Office itself or due to an opposition from a third party. Such an opposition will most likely be from a local company, a preregistered TM holder, that believes that your trademark is infringing upon theirs, or is too similar to their own and could get confused.
It should be noted that this is a provisional refusal by opposition, which is different from an ex officio refusal, which occurs when the national office finds a fault in the application and decides to refuse protection of their own accord.
What can I do against a provisional refusal?
The next step will depend upon which country’s IP office put forward the provisional refusal. Each national office has its own specific procedure to deal with the matter.
All the necessary details should be included in the notification of provisional refusal you received. These details would likely include the grounds for the provisional refusal, the time period in which you must reply to the refusal and request a review/appeal, to whom you should direct such reply, and if you need to hire a local attorney in that country to assist you with the procedure.
If your request for review and appeal is accepted by the national IP office, you will likely have your trademark application compared with an already existing trademark registered nationally in that country.
Depending on what exactly you are wanting to register, the national IP office will compare the shapes, colors, words, and letters included, as well as the similarity of the service/good in relation to the pre-existing trademark, also taking into account the sectorial similarities if any exist. This process may take many months to come to its conclusion, however, every national office has its own rules and deadlines, so you should be very aware of the specific situation of every country.
To learn more about a specific country’s provisional refusal rules and procedures, take a look at our country-by-country guide that will take you through everything you need to know. EU & UK Guide.
Replying to a provisional refusal
Replying to a provisional refusal will often mean that you will have to convince the national office or a court of appeals why your trademark is sufficiently different from an already existing one in order to be granted protection of your IP. To do so effectively requires not only a strong argument regarding the differentiation of the trademark but also a comprehensive understanding of the legislation and the case-law of that country. Therefore, it is highly recommended that if you receive a notification of provisional refusal regarding your international trademark registration, that you should hire an experienced IP lawyer to help you in the process.
If you are wanting to reply to a provisional refusal, we have vast experience in these procedures and would be more than happy to explain the situation to you and see how we could help out. Contact us!Read More