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.
- 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.
- 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.