The Impact of Brexit on European Union Trademarks
Following the UK’s June 2016 decision to leave the EU (Britain’s exit is known as “Brexit”), negotiations have been underway for the UK to ease its way out of the EU. While the UK’s announcement sparked agreements on financial and economic issues, it has yet to solidify an agreement on how trademark rights obtained through the EU system should be treated post-Brexit. If an agreement is not reached by March 29, 2019, the European Commission warned that all EU laws will cease to apply in the UK.
What does this mean for EU trademark owners?
Under the current EU trademark system, brand owners may enjoy trademark protection in up to 28 EU member countries under a single trademark registration. A brand owner that plans to expand its product offering to the EU may avail itself of the benefits of this unitary system by designating the entire EU via a single trademark application, rather than filing separate applications in each individual EU-member country. Once Brexit is complete (in the absence of an agreement to the contrary), pending EU trademark applications and registered EU trademarks will no longer be valid in the UK, while all pending and registered trademarks in the remaining 27 EU member states will remain in effect.
Is a resolution on the horizon before the UK formally leaves the EU?
All signs point to yes, although the UK government has yet to formally approve a transitional arrangement covering trademarks. On September 20, 2017, the EU Commission published a position paper proposing that, following the UK’s formal exit from the EU, all existing EU trademark registrations should automatically receive protection under UK trademark law under the same scope of protection and registration date. Ensuring continued trademark protection for existing EU trademark owners would offset the significant cost of simply allowing these assets to expire post Brexit. However, this could create further complexities – such as additional examination procedures – that would need to be ironed out prior to March 29, 2019.
How can I ensure that my UK trademark rights are secure?
Given the uncertain nature of the ongoing negotiations, brand owners need to be prepared for any outcome. If you have a pending EU trademark application or registered EU trademark that designates the UK, then it would be prudent to seek trademark protection directly through the UK trademark office.