IP protection in the European Union

You can register a trade mark, design or plant variety with a single right that has effect across the European Union (EU). 

The EU has a sophisticated intellectual property (IP) system which can be complex and expensive, given the number of different national and EU-wide rights available. Filing fees can be significantly more expensive than those in Australia.

Patent applications can be filed with the centralised European Patent Office (EPO), resulting in a bundle of national patents. IP rights can also be registered on a national basis across the EU in individual countries of interest to an exporter, such as Germany or France. A large number of rights can be obtained and enforced on a national or EU-wide basis.

The Office for Harmonization of the Internal Market (OHIM) is responsible for registering trade marks and designs in the EU.

You should formulate a specific IP strategy for the EU. In this strategy, decide whether to seek registration in all European markets with an EU-wide right, file individual applications in key markets within the EU, or both.

Trade marks

  • Businesses can apply for either a national trade mark (for example, covering Germany only) or a Community Trade Mark (CTM) through OHIM. The CTM covers all EU member states and may only be registered, assigned or cancelled in respect of the whole of the EU. Likewise, a national trade mark can only be registered, assigned, cancelled or enforced in the country in which it was granted.
  • Member states designate which of their courts have jurisdiction over a CTM. These courts have exclusive jurisdiction over infringement, declarations of non-infringement and invalidity of a CTM.   
  • Unregistered trade marks can be protected in some EU member states on a national basis.
  • Many member states of the EU provide for the protection of non-traditional marks such as three-dimensional shapes, sounds and smells.


  • Businesses can apply for a national patent, a European patent designating particular contracting member states, or both. European patents are granted by the EPO. A European patent application does not result in a single patent. After being granted, the application becomes a bundle of national patents.
  • A national patent can only be enforced in the country in which it was granted. A European patent can only been enforced in the European countries for which the patent has been designated.
  • Political discussions are currently under way to proceed with a unitary EU Community patent and to create a central European court that would have jurisdiction over enforcement claims brought under both European and EU Community patents.
  • Certain types of subject matter are not patentable in the EU.


  • Businesses can apply for national design rights through national IP registries and community design rights through OHIM. The process is relatively quick, with no requirement for a substantive examination. 
  • Unregistered designs are also granted automatic protection in the EU for three years from the date the design is first made available to the public.

Plant varieties

  • Protection of plant variety rights is available in the EU and is administered by the Community Plant Variety Office.
  • Customs authorities provide cross-border measures allowing for the detention of infringing goods.
Last updated: 
23 March 2016