When filing for an EU Trademark to protect your brand, you might receive a Notice of Opposition from the EUIPO. You might be worried about this. Maybe you’re asking yourself: What is a notice of opposition? What can I do to register my trademark now? How can I make sure that my brand is protected in the EU? In this article, we will explain what a Notice of Opposition is and how to deal with it to ensure that you protect your IP.
First, let’s remind ourselves of the application process for EU trademarks.
Recap of EU Trademark Application Process
We must remember that once you have sent your application away, the EUIPO examiner will analyze it and look for any problems. If provisionally approved, your application will be published in the EU Trade Marks Bulletin for all to see. Any party that already owns a registered trademark now has 3 months to file a Notice of Opposition, which will prevent you from being granted protection for your trademark.
What is a Notice of Opposition?
A Notice of Opposition filed by a preregistered EU trademark holder is a claim to the EUIPO that your future trademark infringes on their pre-existing trademark, or is too similar and could cause confusion. This must be done by the opposing party within 3 months of publication in the EU Trade Marks Bulletin.
Once the filing has been completed, and the opposing party has paid the corresponding fees, the Opposition Division of the EUIPO will examine the Notice and determine its admissibility. This admissibility test is conducted in accordance with the EU Trademark Regulation. If it passes the test, you will be advised of the Notice and the next phase of the procedure will begin.
What can I do against a Notice of Opposition?
In order to go against a Notice of Opposition, you must first know the procedure that will be followed. Firstly, there will be a 2-month period in which you may negotiate with the opposing party to try to come to some sort of arrangement. If unsuccessful, you will then have to argue before the EUIPO. These are known as the cooling-off period and the adversarial stage.
Once you have been informed of the Notice of Opposition, a 2-month period begins in which you and the opposing party may attempt to reach a friendly settlement. This is known as the ‘cooling-off’ period. If you are able to reach an agreement with the opposing party, then whatever you agree shall be established and neither side will have to pay any costs for further phases of the procedure. If, however, you are unable to come to an agreement, the adversarial stage shall begin in which you must argue with the opposing party before the EUIPO as to why your trademark should be granted protection and, more importantly, why it is not infringing on the pre-existing trademark, nor is so similar that it would cause confusion.
In this next stage, the opposing party must complete his opposition filing within 2 months of the end of the cooling-off period – the Notice of Opposition was merely provisional. Here, the opposing party will include all evidence that supports his case, as well as proving that the IP rights he is invoking from his trademark truly exist and are valid. For an extensive description of what the opposing party must file and the requirements for doing so, check the Guidelines for Examination in the Office.
Responding to the Notice of Opposition
Proof of Use
In responding to the opposition, in the case that you believe the opposing party may very well have a registered trademark, but is not actually using it, you may request proof of use. This requires the opposing party to submit additional documentation that proves that he is actively using his trademark in a commercial environment. It is essential that every trademark owner is aware that it’s using it or lose it when it comes to opposition proceedings.
Restrictions of your Trademark Application
When filing the application to register your trademark, you will have had to specify which goods and services are traded under the brand. As this could be the grounds for the Opposition in the first place, you may also decide to restrict your application in order to limit the goods and services you provide under that brand, to prevent any potential infringement of the opposing party’s protection. This would only work in specific cases in which you and the opposing party are operating in similar or overlapping sectors. It is important to mention here that the EUIPO will not accept restrictions that are conditional. The restriction must be absolute and unconditional.
Formulate a Strong Legal Argument
Make a strong legal argument behind why your trademark application is acceptable may seem rather obvious, but it is much easier said than done. There is a reason that lawyers dedicate their entire professional lives to IP law. It is an area of the law that is always changing and evolving, not to mention that it has the potential to be incredibly subjective, given that a key factor in a EUIPO decision is how similar it looks compared to the pre-existing trademark.
If you want to have the best chances at a successful trademark application, it is highly recommended to hire the services of an experienced IP lawyer to go through the process with you. At Moeller IP, we have been practicing solely IP law for nearly 100 years across the world, and there is still more to do. If you would like to clarify some doubts, please don’t hesitate to contact us right away.