If you are doing business in a number of different European countries then, rather than registering your trademarks in each jurisdiction separately, you will likely apply for protection at the European level.
This enables you, through a single application, to secure protection in all 28 countries (and counting).
Unless you only need protection in one or two member states, a European trademark is a far more cost effective, and straightforward solution.
However, it is not without its risks. While a trademark application in just a single country generally just faces the possibility of an objection from other brand owners in that country, a European Community Trademark can be opposed by an existing trademark owner in any one of the 28 member countries of the EU. This would then block the entire trademark.
So, how can you minimise your risks? The key is to commission professional searches to identify potential obstacles before you commit to a mark, and file your application. You might begin by initially looking at the UK and European trademark registers, before then expanding the search to the national registers of each EU country. International searches like this can be quite expensive, and offer diminishing returns, so it is important to discuss what degree of searching is appropriate with your legal adviser. It is never possible to eliminate the risks entirely, but through appropriate searches, you can improve your chances without blowing your budget. Your attitude to risk, and the funds you are willing to commit to searching, will generally depend upon how critical your brand is to your business.
But what if you do encounter a problem? That is not necessarily the end of the road. If your European application is opposed by a business with rights in just a single member state, the first step will generally be to negotiate with them, and see if it is possible to come to an agreement allowing both businesses to coexist. Under some circumstances, it might not be possible to reach an amicable settlement, in which case the European trademark courts may resolve the dispute. However, this can be costly for all involved.
If, ultimately, you do decide it is best to withdraw your application in that particular country, all is not lost as you are free to file national applications in those European countries from which you did not face an objection. However, there are no guarantees that those national applications would not face objections from other trademark owners.
A key issue when it comes to trademarks is what is known as the priority date. Typically, this is the date on which you file your trademark application, and the date from which your registration is effective. If you were to entirely withdraw your application following a dispute, and refile national applications, then you would receive a new priority date. However, it is possible to convert a European trademark application into a group of national applications, and retain your original priority date. An important advantage of doing so, is that your application will, broadly speaking, take precedence over others which were filed in the interim.
Still, converting a European application to national applications, or refiling directly in the relevant countries, can become very expensive as fees are payable in respect of each territory. So, where resources allow, it is best to carry out appropriate searches in advance. You can find out more about national, and international trademark registration on our dedicated website AzrightsTradeMarkRegistration.co.uk.