EUROPE: Pay attention to EU trademarks

The UK may not be participating in emu, but Europe is still our concern. Companies, for example, are losing out for failing to register their brands across the Euro territories By John Shannon

Though previous “days of reckoning” – such as January 1 last year, when computer experts predicted that problems relating to the millennium changeover could paralyse systems – passed with merely a whimper, the “big bang” introduction of the euro is certain to affect each of the EU’s 375 million citizens.

Though the UK is not, at this point, participating in the common currency, UK-based companies are advised to ensure their systems are sensitive to it, should they intend to maintain or increase their presence in Europe. This is just one more example of how the EU is bringing about fundamental changes which affect our lives.

Among other areas demanding attention, one can point to intellectual property. Brands are typically products or services brought to life by attractive, reliable and trustworthy personas that are built around them. Brands, therefore, are prime examples of intellectual property.

The process of creating, managing and deriving wealth from brands is commonly seen in terms of its most visible manifestations, chiefly advertising and other forms of promotion. Yet while these serve to build a bond with trade and consumers, other equally fundamental yet less visible areas of brand management also have a role to play – a role that, due to EU initiatives, is increasingly international in scope.

Earlier this month, the European Patent Office (EPO), responsible for granting patents which are valid throughout its 20 country members, announced that a record number of applications (more than 140,000) had been received during 2000, and that this figure represented a doubling of that recorded ten years previously.

This news was preceded, in April, by an announcement by the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market: Trade Marks and Designs (OHMI), that it had registered the 100,000th community trademark, valid throughout the EU.

The importance of paying attention to trademark registration cannot be overstressed. In failing to register a trademark in all markets where it is envisaged that a product or service is to be marketed, companies risk losing control of, or even damaging, their brands.

This was illustrated last year when a Dutch court ruled that the BBC, having failed to register the name of its popular children’s television characters, the Teletubbies, with the Benelux Trademark Office, had lost all rights to the Teletubbies trademark to a local man who had registered the name two years previously.

Dependent on the outcome of any appeal, the BBC and its licensee, Ragdoll Productions, were barred from selling Teletubby merchandise other than dairy products, themed restaurant meals and children’s first-aid plasters throughout the Netherlands, Belgium and Luxembourg.

Brands are an essential building block of the new European economy. The setting-up of centralised European patent and trademark offices recognises this. Now it is up to smart marketers to follow suit.

John Shannon is president of Grey International

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