General Information about IP in Europe
What is a Patent ?
A patent is an exclusive right awarded to the first applicant to prevent others from making, selling, distributing, importing or using their invention on a specific territory without licence or autorisation, for a maximum period of 20 years (provided that maintenance fees are regularly paid). In return, the patentee is required to disclose the invention to the public in a manner sufficiently clear and complete for it to be carried out by a person skilled in the art. A patent shall be granted for any invention in all fields of technology, provided that they are new, involve an inventive step, and are susceptible of industrial application, and that they are not forbidden by the applicable law (i.e : mathematical methods, aesthetic creations, presentations of information, schemes, rules and methods for performing mental acts, playing games, programs for computers, etc.)
What is a Utility Model ?
A Utility model is basically similar to a patent but has a shorter term (from 6 years to 10 years in Europe) and is normally submitted to less stringent patentability requirements. In some european countries, the Utility Model can protect both an apparatus and a method, while in other countries, only an apparatus is protectable by a Utility Model. (check the table hereafter for details)
Is there a European Utility Model ?
No, other than for the Patent, there is not a centralized procedure to obtain a Utility Model in all european countries, but several european countries do have the Utility Model protection, namely Austria, Bulgaria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Slovenia and Spain. The duration, the type of registrable invention and the novelty requirement varies depending on the country. (Pls check the table hereafter for details)
Why do we often hear that filing a Utility Model is a double-win choice ?
It is a double-win choice because the Utility Model is on one hand easy to obtain since there is no substantive examination, and is on the other hand difficult for a third party to invalidate because the inventive step requirement is normally lower than for patent. We could also raise that it is cheaper than a patent with less risk to be rejected or invalidated by a third party.
What is a Trademark ?
A trademark is an exclusive right to use distinctive signs such as symbols, colours, letters, shapes or names to identify the producer of a product or the supplier of a service, and protect its associated reputation. A trademark can be renewed indefinitely.
What is the advantage of the Community Trademark ?
The major advantage of the Community trademark system is that it makes possible the uniform identification of products and services by companies throughout the European Union and substantially reduces costs. A unique procedure applied by the OHIM (European Office) allows applicants to register a single trademark (CTM) which will benefit from unitary protection and be fully applicable in each of the 27 member Countries of the European Union. A CTM is valid for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely for successive periods of 10 years. (Pls check hereafter the list of countries covered by a CTM).
What is the advantage of the Community Design ?
The major advantage of the Community Design system is that it makes possible the uniform protection of the outward appearance of a product (or part of it) and/or service throughout the European Union and substantially reduces costs. A very easy to use, non expensive and quick procedure applied by the OHIM (European Office) allows the Applicant to register a Design Application which will benefit from unitary protection and be fully applicable in each member country of the European Union. Multiple applications are acceptable, ie. in one application form, the Applicant can file as many designs as he decides (one condition : all the designs to be applied shall belong to the same class of product - Locarno Convention – except for logo). A European Community Design Registration (CDR) is valid for 5 years, and can be renewed four times for periods of 5 years (up to 25 years). There is no substantive examination. A design covers the appearance of a product, including industrial products; but does not protect the function of a product (functional features of a product may be protected by patents).
What is a copyright ?
A copyright is an exclusive rights of the creators or original literary, scientific and artistic works, which are created, without formalities, with the creation of the work, and last for the life of the creator plus 70 years. It prevents unauthorized reproduction, public performance, recording, broadcasting, translation or adaptation, and allows the collection of royalties for authorised use.
What is the best strategy to protect an innovation in Europe ?
The best strategy depends on the invention, on the market you intend to cover, on the quality of the international search report, if any, or the national report, if a prior filing has been done in a Paris Convention Member State. You may decide to file Utility Models if your invention doesn't imply a high inventive step standard. You may decide to file a European Patent application if you intend a strong protection within 38 countries. You may decide to file national patents if you want a quick grant and want to minimize the risk of rejection (for example, some european countries do not have a substantive examination procedure for patent for invention, such as France,which facilitates the grant compared to the European Patent)
How to nullify a Patent in Europe ?
There is currently no centralized procedure to nullify a patent in Europe, except for a European Patent, during the so-called 9-months post grant opposition where you can file an opposition to nullity the european patent which will, in case of succes, totally or partially invalidate the European patent in all member states. Other than this specific procedure, there is currently no way to nullify a european patent in a centralized maner. A civil nullity action has to be started in every country in which you want a patent to be nullified. Note that the nullity action is a judicial procedure and is not an administrative procedure alike in China.