By Richard Goddard, President of the Chartered Institute of Trade Mark Attorneys
More than 1.5 million new trademarks have just been created in the UK, cementing Britain as a global powerhouse for intellectual property (IP).
Whether businesses planned to or not, many companies now own more UK trademarks than they did just a few weeks ago, providing continuity and certainty that protects their IP interests.
Every owner of an European Union trademark registered by 11pm London time on December 31, 2020 now has an exact copy trademark that is fully protected and enforceable in the UK. These new rights were created at no cost and without the need for action by the owners, minimising disruption to business and avoiding inadvertent loss of rights.
Trademarks are valuable business assets that protect ideas and innovation. They allow consumers to identify the origin of products and services easily.
The UK is recognised as a world leader in IP, a position it must retain for the benefit of business and consumers. It is ranked by the US Chamber of Commerce as second in the world in the IP environment, according to the 2020 US Chamber International IP Index, behind America.
IP courts in the UK are highly regarded and are key venues for resolving worldwide disputes. Around the world huge numbers of IP agreements are governed by English law, with disputes subject to the jurisdiction of the English courts.
The UK can be justifiably proud of innovations such as the fast track of the Intellectual Property Enterprise Court, which provides a cost-effective means of resolving smaller disputes, but it must continue to innovate and invest to ensure businesses of all sizes have access to robust and timely judgments in disputes.
While the UK was a member of the EU, its trademark law was harmonised with other EU states. We are no longer bound by those constraints and there is now scope for the law to diverge from the EU, particularly via UK court decisions.
However, businesses need stability and too much change could be damaging and threaten the UK’s position.
There are many benefits to having a harmonised IP system with the EU and strong treaty-based links with many other key jurisdictions via the World Intellectual Property Organization.
Anything that threatens this collaboration would be detrimental not only to the UK’s world-leading position, but the businesses which operate within its economy.
One area it must get on top of is the exhaustion of IP rights, the limits on how rights can be used to prevent the resale of genuine products, including those entering the country from elsewhere, so-called parallel imports.
Currently there is a mismatch between the UK and EU positions, and the government intends to consult on possible changes to the UK stance.
The impact of changes in this area could be far reaching for brand owners and the government must act to provide certainty so businesses can plan.
A strong IP environment is important, but businesses can only benefit if they are properly advised. To maximise the value of their IP, businesses should ensure they have a regulated IP adviser who is an expert in the UK on hand. They will always be best placed to advise and work with businesses to develop strategies that add value.
Businesses with a commercial presence in the UK deserve to have the certainty that the value of their IP is protected. This will help the UK remain a world leader. It is up to the government to ensure this happens.