Weekly take: The jostling is over…for now, time to run the EUIPO
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Weekly take: The jostling is over…for now, time to run the EUIPO

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Now that João Negrão has been appointed as EUIPO executive director, it’s time to think about the challenges he can expect

It’s only been eight months since we learnt of the race to find a new executive director of the EUIPO.

In November, the office’s management board voted not to renew the contract of the incumbent, Christian Archambeau.

Today, after a long and hard-fought process, it was revealed that João Negrão is set to take on the role when Archambeau’s term expires at the end of September.

Twists and turns

Managing IP, in particular our senior reporter Rory O’Neill, has been on top of every development along the way.

From a journalist’s perspective, it’s been exciting to follow.

We’ve uncovered who put themselves forward for the role, which countries backed which candidates, and reported on a complaint lodged by Archambeau about the process that removed him.

We even interviewed Archambeau himself – who seemed to have been largely kept in the dark about any concerns over his leadership before the vote to oust him.

We can’t say for sure whether today’s news will bring the curtain down on what’s been an exciting few months. There could well be more news that emerges, and we will endeavour to report on it if it does.

But casting aside my journalistic intrigue, and at the risk of sounding like a huge bore, there is an important job to do – running one of the most crucial IP offices in the world.

I won’t use this column to say whether I think the Council of the EU’s committee of permanent representatives (Coreper) has made the right decision today.

I have no doubt that both candidates had the best interests of the EU’s IP framework in mind when they decided to go for the role, and I congratulate Negrão on securing the nomination.

But he will face plenty of challenges from day one, ranging from a hugely expanded remit for the office to troubling/concerning filing numbers. Now is the time to focus on the years ahead.

Falling figures

Negrão will begin his role in October, giving him around three months on the job before the year’s end.

As previously reported, EU trademark (EUTM) filings dropped in 2022 year-on-year for the first time since 2008.

The significance of that development in Archambeau’s downfall is open to interpretation but Negrão will want to ensure that business confidence in EUTMs remains high.

If businesses are confident, this will soon be reflected in healthier filing numbers.

Data for the first six months of 2023 shows the numbers are narrowly down on where they were at the same point in 2022.

The total fall in 2022 meant the office failed to trigger its offsetting mechanism for 2024, a scheme introduced to compensate EU member states.

Negrão will have only been at the helm for the final few months of the year, but if the office were to somehow fail to meet the offsetting mechanism again in 2023, it would make an already difficult start for Negrão even more challenging.

It’s worth stressing, however, that global economic concerns and the war in Ukraine have both been highlighted as contributing factors towards the drop in 2022.

Previous declines in filing numbers also coincided with financial crises, but the office has never experienced a dip for more than two successive years.

Should there be a decline again this year, backs will be against the wall to avoid an unprecedented third successive fall.

Increased remit

However, Negrão's tenure is likely to be dominated by far more than just filing numbers.

The EUIPO has been earmarked to increase its competencies after the European Commission’s announcement on standard-essential patent (SEP) reforms in April.

One of the commission’s most controversial ideas is to give the EUIPO, which has no experience in dealing with patents, a central role in Europe’s SEP system.

The word from SEP owners over the past few months is that they don’t have confidence in the EUIPO to fulfil the role.

It will be down to Negrão to convince those stakeholders that the EUIPO is up to the task. Work will have to start straight away. It will be no easy feat.

Also in April, the European Commission presented the first-ever EU framework to protect European craft and industrial products by expanding geographical indications (GIs) beyond food and drink products and into non-agricultural goods.

The framework will cover the likes of Murano glass from Italy and Donegal tweed from Ireland, with the EUIPO in charge of evaluating and approving GI applications for such products.

It adds to a growing to-do list for Negrão, and he was only chosen today.

The stories of ousted directors, of parties jostling for power and of whose votes are going where may be great for journalists – and we will continue to report on anything else that emerges.

But, crucially, there’s also an office to run and there’s arguably never been a more important time to do it, so let’s get on with it.

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