This year's Annual Meeting of the International Trademark Association (INTA) will be in Singapore (16-20 May) and promises to be packed with fascinating discussions. The sessions scheduled at the conference remind us that trademarks are not the only rights to consider when looking at brand protection.
INTA annual conferences have a true personal side, but away from the coffee meetings and receptions, the official talks focus our minds and many this year have emphasis on the areas of blockchain, trade dress, copyright, and registered designs. These complementary areas are all key and fit nicely alongside our core field: the protection and enforcement of intellectual property.
Just as meeting for a drink goes hand-in-hand with developing working relationships around the globe, so do these other areas of law on the periphery, when it comes to considering the useful protection and enforcement of trademarks.
Trademarks are defined under the EU Trade Mark Regulation and UK Trade Marks Act, and many other statutes around the world, as 'any sign capable of distinguishing goods or services of one undertaking from those of other undertakings'. The problem is that monopoly trademark rights are often refused registration owing to function. This means being deemed, for example, a shape which results from the nature of the goods themselves, something necessary to obtain a technical result, or simply a purported trademark which 'adds substantial value' or in other words, is aesthetically too pleasing for registration. (For more information, watch our recent webinar on protecting product packaging here.)
Such talks scheduled for INTA's meeting highlight that, even at an prestigious important global event for our field, trademarks are not the only rights to consider when looking to protect and enforce intellectual property rights.
A design right, for one, is a commonly forgotten but very effective IP right. Also known as 'trade dress' around the world, if registered, it provides the owner with 25 years of protection to the design and any design similar enough not to produce a different overall impression on the relevant public.
The test for infringement for a registered design does not actually require any confusion or misrepresentation as to the origin: it is all about whether the other product looks too similar to the registered design. The question is whether the ‘overall impression’ is the same or different in the eyes of an informed user.
A useful recent (United Kingdom) example of this was in the ruling on a dispute between long-standing litigation Marks & Spencer and budget supermarket chain Aldi. M&S was able to successfully rely on four UK registered designs to protect itself and enforce against the appearance of a light-up gin bottle which (subject to appeal) Aldi is now injuncted from using and must deliver up and/or destroy. Registered design rights won the day, where trademark law could not.
Copyright is a long-standing acknowledged IP right transcending borders since its first formal establishment under the Berne Convention in 1886. In more modern times, we also now look to blockchain to record creation and automatic associated rights during the process of agency or employee creation.
The discussions also remind us that, in many jurisdictions, torts such as ‘passing off’ can be successfully relied upon under common law, where statutory rights would otherwise fail a claimant. This is especially important in the field of ‘get up’ and the ongoing concern of IP rights holders with ‘copycat’ or ‘lookalike’ products, particularly those created and sold by budget retailers.
We look forward to sharing some brand protection insights from INTA's Annual Meeting in due course. In the meantime, whether you're attending in person at the Sands Expo & Convention Center, Singapore (16-20 May) or joining online (27-29 June), our team of Novagraaf experts will be on hand to discuss your IP, brand and trademark needs. We have a team of seven attending this year, providing a great opportunity for us to meet with clients and our agent network, and properly reconnect in person since the pandemic.
Contact us to set up a meeting for the Singapore conference or reach out directly to our attendees Aurélie Guetin, Bart Schweitzer, Helma van de Langenberg, Ingrid Mennens, Luke Portnow, Lutgarde Liezenberg and Olivier Boland.