Hegemony continues for National Trade Marks in the Baltics

  • 2010-07-21
  • By Raquel Dura Lahoz

RIGA - The European Communities Trade Mark Association, ECTA, in collaboration with OHIM, the Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market, organizes conferences and roundtable discussions throughout Europe to analyze the relationship between the Community Trade Marks - CTMs - and the National Trade Marks systems. At a conference in Riga on July 9, professionals connected with national patent offices, experts on this area of law and representatives of European trademark associations discussed the state of the relationship between CTMs and National Trade Marks organizations in Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

Since the three countries joined the European Union in 2004, the National Trade Marks and the CTMs have been forced to live together. Both seek harmony in coexisting, while covering different markets.

On one hand, Peter Lawrence, vice president of OHIM, the official trademark registration office for the European Union, declared: “The biggest problem between National Trade Marks and the CTMs is that the national patent offices are worried, thinking about the future, because the volume of applications in their offices has been falling with the CTMs system.”

However, the vice president of OHIM confirmed that the Community Trade Marks system is not going to destroy the National Trade Marks: “It is true that national offices will have fewer registrations, but there are a lot of companies, on the local level, that are not interested in registering their brands abroad. There will always be demand for the National Trade Marks.”

Lawrence guaranteed that the advantages of registering a trademark under the CTMs are many. “With one application you have access to 27 countries, one of the biggest markets in the world with more than 350 million consumers. Furthermore, the registration is fast, no more than 6 months, and you will have protection of your trademark in the whole of the European Union. Another advantage is that companies can use our technical staff and contact us by e-procedures.”

On the other hand, Domenico De Simone, first vice president with ECTA, noted that the situation in the Baltic States is peculiar, since, due to the small size of the countries, the small population and the current financial situation, the workload in the offices of patents and applications for Baltic companies to register their trademarks at the European level are not comparable to other places, like Germany or the UK. In fact, in 2009, of all applications submitted to register a European mark, 23 percent belong to the U.S., 16 percent are from Germany, 12 percent from the UK and 7 percent from Italy, Spain and France. The remaining applications make up only 13 percent of the total and they include more than 200 countries, among which are Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

At the round table discussion held in Riga, Arunas Zelvys, head of the Law and International Affairs Division of the Lithuanian State Patent Bureau, spoke about the relationship between CTMs and the national brands in Lithuania. He emphasized “the low awareness of the CTMs system and the small number of CTMs applications from Lithuania, as the majority of the country’s businesses are small- and medium-sized and they just wish to trade within their territory.”

Dace Liberte, the Trade Mark and Design Department director of the Latvian Patent Office, put forward the most interesting points in Latvia. “The number of European trademark applications is relatively small because the system is not cheap and it is not very easy to register, as there are more requirements,” she said. In addition, Liberte reported that when a trademark needs to be registered outside Latvia, companies prefer the Madrid System, another patent system that allows registering a trademark in countries outside Europe. During 2009, 99 trademarks were registered via the Madrid System and just 62 marks were registered as CTMs in Latvia.

Almar Sehver, lawyer and registered trademark attorney in the Tallinn office of Legal Services,  showed the impact of the Community Trademark in Estonia. Sehver emphasized that “Clients should be directed to the trademark system which corresponds to their business, not which is designed as most attractive for them.” On this point, the lawyer put forward that the CTMs system is more efficient than the national system, but small- and medium-sized businesses cannot afford the costs because, to register one trademark in Estonia, costs 250 euros, whereas to register as a CTMs, it costs around 900 euros. This is one of the reasons why registration in the National Trade Marks in Estonia is higher than is the registration as CTMs.

Finally, Kristine Ostrouska spoke from the perspective of a big company. She represents Grindeks, the leading pharmaceutical company in the Baltic States. Grindeks exports to more than 40 countries including Russia, Japan and the U.S. The pharmaceutical company has 218 national trademarks, 159 trademarks via the Madrid System and just 31 CTMs registered trademarks. Despite this, Ostrouska emphasized the good experience that the company has had with CTMs and OHIM: “The way for registering European brands is very fast, and the e-tools are very useful for a big company. However, if you use your trademark in one country, it is sufficient to maintain CTMs for the whole European Union.”

The three representatives of the Baltic States and the representative of Grindeks agreed that the important thing is that both systems, the National and European, should be balanced and in harmony. Harmony means the balance that users are directed to the trademark system that fits their actual business. It also means the harmony between both judicial issues and laws dealing with intellectual property and patents.