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EU-wide IPR Protection

Why protect your IPR in the whole EU? Even if you already have your IPR registered in several EU countries to which you want to export, a copycat product could be shipped to a port in a country where your IPR is not registered and therefore customs could do nothing to block it. Then, once past customs and inside the EU, the copycat product could be trucked anywhere else in the EU without being again stopped or checked by customs. Enforcement of your EU-wide trademark (CTM) or industrial design rights (CRD) is far more cost effective because a single ruling in any market is enforceable in all 27 EU member countries – winning immediate customs enforcement against copies in every EU country. And EU-wide trademark and industrial design rights deprive copiers of the slippery excuse that they don’t actually sell the product in the country where they are caught (e.g., at a trade fair) but rather in neighboring countries, because your rights are protected in all EU countries. International trademarks and patents can be applied for at the U.S. Patent Office.

Community Trademark (CTM)

Both separate national marks and the CTM can be designated as part of an international filing at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) via the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). For more information, go to www.uspto.gov or call 1-866-999-HALT, the one-stop USG hotline to help businesses protect their intellectual property – IP – at home or abroad. The CTM costs around 2,000 Euro for a 10-year registration valid in all EU countries. American companies that do not have a resident, legal person in the EU must file through an EU-based legal office, so for most the first stop would likely be the USPTO. A single filing for the entire EU greatly reduces the legal cost of defending trademarks throughout the community, since a court ruling in one EU member state is binding on the rest.

You can alternatively register your trademarks in individual EU countries or you can apply for a Community Trademark from the EU’s trademark agency, The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (http://oami.europa.eu/ows/rw/pages/index.en.do) that covers the whole European Union – 27 countries, 470 million people.

Community Registered Design (CRD)

If your product's IP derives largely from its design, you should consider protecting it against copying. For products marketed in the European Union you can apply for a Registered Community Design that provides protection across all 27 EU member countries. To qualify, a design must be novel – defined to be within 12 months of its first public disclosure anywhere in the world. Thus, careful and well-documented disclosure at trade shows is important. U.S. exporters who plan to exhibit a design for the first time at a trade fair in Europe can make a Priority Declaration (Prioritätsbescheinigung) to document this first public disclosure. Some trade fair organizers provide on-site assistance. The EU design protection law provides a 12-month grace period, during which you can register an RCD after first disclosing it without affecting its “novelty.” The registration fee varies based on the number of designs applied for, but is usually around 350–400 Euro (plus legal fees). EU resident persons and companies can file RCD applications online at: http://oami.europa.eu/ows/rw/pages/index.en.do.

EU Patent Protection

Although there is not yet a single EU-wide patent system, the European Patent Office does grant European patents for the contracting states to the European Patent Convention (EPC), which entered into force in 1977. The 31 contracting states include almost the entire EU membership and several more European countries. The EPO, located in Munich, provides a convenient single point to file a patent in as many or all of these countries. See: http://www.european-patent-office.org./index.de.php), but protection can also be sought via the U.S. Patent Office (http://www.uspto.gov).