Boost your EU trade mark portfolio with the help of Simmons & Simmons Translator, our unique software-backed solution

Your one off chance to boost your EU trade mark portfolio: here’s how it will work and how our innovative software-backed service Simmons & Simmons Translator can help.

From 23 March 2016, trade mark owners will have a six month, one off window to bolster the scope of their pre-June 2012 Community trade mark (CTM) portfolios by making an “Article 28” declaration to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). We’ve developed Simmons & Simmons Translator, a software tool that allows us to handle these declarations for you automatically, saving you a lot of time and a lot of money.

A quick recap:

  • You can read our earlier article for some background on this topic here.
  • Previously, Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) treated CTMs registered for entire class headings as covering all goods or services in the alphabetical list for that class in the Nice classification - this will no longer be the case.
  • If you have CTMs filed before 22 June 2012 covering the entire class heading of the relevant Nice class applicable at the time of filing, you are entitled to file an Article 28 declaration to clarify or boost your specification of goods/services.
  • You only have six months - 23 March to 24 September 2016 - to do this.
  • You can boost your CTM by adding in any goods or services not covered by the literal meaning of the class heading.
  • If you do not, OHIM (and EU courts) will (likely forever) treat your CTM as registered only for the goods and services covered by the literal meaning of the class heading. In many cases this will mean a permanent restriction of your trade mark rights.

What is Simmons & Simmons Translator?

Simmons & Simmons Translator is software tool we have developed, with which we can deal with Article 28 declarations for you automatically, saving you considerable time and money, using proprietary technology to review your portfolio, ascertain which CTMs are eligible, and prepare appropriate declarations for filing at OHIM. We do not believe any other product like it exists - all other advisors can only offer to do this process manually.  

Find out more

 

How are Article 28 declarations going to work?

You’ll find some answers in OHIM’s President’s Communication 1/2016. There’s also a press release which links to a webinar on the subject. The latter tells us that OHIM has been caught unawares by the interest of trade mark professionals in Article 28. But in our view, this is an important matter, because the outcome of this is a unilateral restriction on many owners’ trade mark rights, with only a relatively short amount of time provided to try to fix it.

Further details are provided in OHIM’s FAQs. Below we draw out the key points, although please bear in mind that this is a complex matter and accordingly the below is only a summary.

Who can file a declaration?

Anyone with one or more CTMs (or International Registrations (IRs) designating the EU) filed before 22 June 2012 where one or more of the classes of those CTMs is registered for goods and services which cover the entire Nice class heading in place at the time the mark was filed.

How is it done?

OHIM has an online form, although it can’t be used for IRs. You can also file in any of the normal ways you communicate with OHIM (eg, by post). There is no official fee. A declaration can be filed in English, French, German, Italian or Spanish, although IRs have to be filed in their own language.

IRs get special treatment here because originally OHIM wasn’t going to allow declarations to be made for them at all. But following pressure from the likes of WIPO and MARQUES, they now will.

What does “covers the entire Nice class heading” mean?

Declarations are solely designed to deal with ambiguity in class headings which used to be used as a proxy for claiming “all goods in the class”. This was a common practice, but not with everyone. So for every class of a mark that is registered for the entire Nice class heading, you can make a declaration. If the mark is registered for only part of the Nice class heading, or is narrower in some way, you cannot. However, OHIM has said that if your mark covers the whole class heading, you can make a declaration even if the mark is also registered for other goods and services in that class. Here are some examples: 

  • ELIGIBLE: clothing, footwear, headgear (entire Class 25 class heading)
  • ELIGIBLE: clothing, footwear, headgear; shorts; caps (entire Class 25 class heading plus additional goods)
  • NOT ELIGIBLE: clothing, footwear, headgear not including tennis clothing (narrower than the class heading because of the limitation)

Sounds simple enough? Unfortunately, when you look at enough specifications, you realise things start to get complicated. Here are some more (real) examples:

  • Class 8 - “Hand tools; cutlery; side arms; razors.” The class heading is "Hand tools and implements (hand operated); cutlery; side arms; razors." Does leaving out “implements (hand operated)” means you don’t cover the entire class heading? Couldn’t it be said “tools” are the same as “implements”? What if the only missing words are “(hand operated)”?
  • Class 28 - “Games and playthings; gymnastic and sporting apparatus; decorations for Christmas trees." The class heading says “articles” not “apparatus”. Is one different from the other?
  • Class 33 - “Alcoholic beverages, in particular wine, sparkling wine, spirits, liqueurs.” The class heading is “Alcoholic beverages (except beers)”. Does the former cover the latter?

When you sit down to do the task, actually spotting the relevant terms in a specification can be agonising work. Here’s a class 14 example. The terms from the Nice class heading are all in there, underlined:

Horological instruments, watches, chronometric instruments, clocks, clock and watch making articles in general; jewelry, jewelry made of gold and of silver, including sterling silver, jewelry made of precious metal or coated therewith; jewelry (precious and non-precious metals and other materials); jewelry of non-precious metals; costume jewelry; imitation jewelry and parts and fittings for all the aforesaid goods; cuff links, tie tacks, earrings, necklaces, bracelets, pins, ornaments, dress accessories (brooches, buttons); key rings made of precious metals; key rings, key chains, grill emblem; precious stones, valuable stones; precious metals and their alloys and goods in such materials; precious metals and their alloys and goods in precious metals or coated therewith; articles included in class 14 made of precious metals or coated therewith; precious metals and their alloys and goods made out of said materials or plated; precious metals and their alloys as well as decorations made from or plated with them; paperweights, letter openers, writing instruments, all these goods made of precious metals and their alloys; all goods; watches for scuba divers.

Not an easy task with pen and paper for a portfolio of, say, 100 marks.

So what can go in our declarations? Any goods and services we like?

Unfortunately not. This is where OHIM has taken some steps to try to make all this easy for it (but maybe not for you). The idea is this - a lot of goods and services are already clearly covered by the class heading. “Clothing” clearly covers t-shirts and socks. So no one needs to file a declaration to say they intended to cover socks when they filed for the entire class 25 class heading.

Instead (says OHIM’s FAQ 5, my emphasis):

“Declarations can only be made for specific goods or services contained within the alphabetical list and not covered by the literal meaning of the class heading for the class of the edition of the Nice Classification in force at the date of filing.”

This does NOT mean:

  • generic expressions claiming, for instance, the entire alphabetical list
  • the use of unclear, imprecise or unspecific expressions (eg ‘all goods in Class X’ or ‘all goods not clearly covered by the literal meaning’)
  • declarations for goods and services that are deemed to be clearly covered by the literal meaning of the class heading
  • declarations for goods or services not contained in the alphabetical list in question.

To help you work out what it does mean, OHIM has done the horrible job of plodding through 45 alphabetical lists in five versions of the Nice classification and come up with its own list of “orphans” which, in its view, are not covered by the literal meaning of the class heading. You can find these here. However, OHIM is not willing to nail its colours to its mast so it says these are only examples. So there may be other terms not covered by the literal meaning of the class heading, but it’s not going to tell you what these are. It says it will give those filing declarations the benefit of reasonable doubt, and its FAQ (number 20) gives three more examples of terms that are acceptable.

What is the effect of a declaration?

As noted this is not easy to summarise. Essentially, it means you ensure your CTMs cover goods and services that, if you don’t file a declaration, they will be deemed not to cover.

Some of the goods and services in OHIM’s list of orphans are obscure: take “teats” in Class 10. But others much less so: “vehicle bumpers” in Class 12 are probably quite important for anyone who sells car parts.

There are other effects of declarations, including in relation to what happens if you later try to enforce your CTM and rely upon one of the added goods and services (see for example Article 14 of the Communication). The Communication and FAQs are worth reading in full.

Do we need to bother with this, or can we ignore it?

In any ideal world, you’d sit down with your advisors, definitely check each mark and class therein for eligibility, work through the alphabetical lists studying them for terms not covered by the class heading, work out whether your business needs those goods and services, and then file a declaration for them. If you have one CTM, you could do that, but it might take you all day.

If you have 100, 50 or even 20 CTMs, it’s going to take a very long time and/or cost a significant amount. Or you could do nothing. Let your CTMs be narrowed. Take the risk that the goods and services you lose are never going to be an issue for you. No one knows if that’s sensible or not.

We favour a middle way: apply for declarations wherever you are allowed for all of the goods and services which OHIM has already decided are not covered by the literal meaning of the class headings. Some of those goods and services may be more or less of value to you, but better to have them than not.

That could still be a big job - but one way to do it is to use Simmons & Simmons Translator, a software tool we have developed that allows us to do everything for you automatically, much much more quickly than doing it manually. You can read more about Simmons & Simmons Translator here, including what it costs.

Is there any need to do anything before 23 March 2016?

Some commentators have said that CTM owners need to do something to their portfolios before the window for declarations opens. However, we think that is incorrect.

Some advisors have been talking about making Article 50 partial surrenders instead. This is a way to delete a class heading from a mark (Article 28 lets you keep it) and replace it with a long list of goods or services instead. OHIM has expressly said that partial surrenders are unaffected by Article 28 and can continue to be made at any time.

Our view is that Article 50 is not an alternative, it’s different. You can use Article 50 to turn a class heading into a list of the goods or services which are within the literal meaning of the class heading. If you want your mark to cover goods and services outside the literal meaning of the class heading, you need to go Article 28. So they are complementary – or so OHIM implies in its webinar. You could do Article 28 and then Article 50, in that order, to end up with just a long list of goods or services instead of a class heading, but doing just Article 50 shouldn’t work.

This document (and any information accessed through links in this document) is provided for information purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. Professional legal advice should be obtained before taking or refraining from any action as a result of the contents of this document.