Addition of Two New Member Countries to the European Union Means More Rights for Trademark Owners

On January 1, Bulgaria and Romania became the 26th and 27th members of the European Union (“EU”). Bulgaria and Romania are probably not on your radar now, but they may be in the future, as the two countries continue to grow their economies and modernize their infrastructures to meet EU standards.

In the meantime, the news is likely to affect your trademark rights if you are doing business in Europe, or if you are planning to expand your business to the Balkan states.

First, a few words about trademarks in Europe. The EU has a system, called the European Community Trademark (“CTM”), that allows companies and individuals to file a single trademark application that covers all member countries (instead of having to file individually with each country’s trademark office). When new countries join the EU, like Bulgaria and Romania did two weeks ago, they join that system automatically.

What does this mean practically?

First piece of good news for companies with pre-01/01/07 CTM applications and registrations: their trademark rights are automatically extended to the two new member countries. They can now enforce their marks in Bulgaria and Romania — even if the infringers have filed trademark applications in those countries. Of course, with the good comes some bad (and possible confusion). To help in the transition, owners of national trademarks in Bulgaria and Romania have been granted an exceptional right to oppose confusingly similar CTM marks filed between July 1 and December 31, 2006. The extension of the EU also means that the CTM office can now object to marks on the basis that they are generic or descriptive in Romanian and Bulgarian. This will not be a problem for most companies as their marks probably do not have a meaning in those languages. Nevertheless, companies looking to file trademarks in the EU may want to take these new elements into consideration when chosing a mark to be used in the European market.

For more information about what the EU enlargement means from a trademark perspective, the European Trademark Office published a circular available at:
http://oami.europa.eu/en/enlargement/enlargement2007.htm

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