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Happy 20th birthday to OHIM

Trade mark VIPs from all over the world were in Alicante yesterday to mark the 20th anniversary of OHIM and the opening of new facilities, including offices, a reception area and auditorium. James Nurton shares his impressions

Lots of presidents

OHIM ribbon cuttingThe new building, which has taken 21 months to build and cost just less than €40 million, was formally opened by OHIM President António Campinos, President of the Administrative Board Mihaly Ficsor and the Chair of OHIM’s Staff Committee Janice Batterbee (right). The opening ceremony was the first event held in the new auditorium, which will be used for educational and professional events

Guests included EPO President Benoît Battistelli, the new chair of the European Parliament’s Legal Affairs Committee Pavel Svoboda, Daniel Calleja, director general of DG Enterprise and Industry in the European Commission and the President of the Valencian Community, Alberto Fabra, as well as representatives of EU member states, national offices and trade mark users groups. Former OHIM presidents Jean-Claude Combaldieu and Wubbo de Boer were also there, and were presented with artworks to recognise their contribution to the Office.

The list of notable guests was something of a minefield for the numerous speakers: you don’t want to risk causing offence by leaving someone out. Ficsor had the perfect solution, opening his speech with the words: “Dear Presidents, ex-presidents … and future presidents”.

A new way of working

In his speech, Campinos noted how far the Office has come since it opened in 1994 with a handful of staff in temporary rented accommodation in central Alicante. When the first CTM applications started arriving in 1996, the numbers were way ahead of forecasts and the staff couldn’t cope: the paper applications (this was long before e-filing) were piled up in notorious “blue files” until they could be dealt with. This year, the Office will probably receive about 120,000 CTM applications as well as 90,000 RCD filings. Next week it launches a fast-track system for trade marks, which could see applications processed in just a few weeks.

OHIM is now the largest EU agency, employing 1,400 staff and supporting many more jobs in the local region, where it is the biggest employer. It’s partly to accommodate all of them that OHIM needs additional office space, though Campinos stressed that the new building is important not just for what it is but for what it represents: a new approach built on more teamwork, smarter working, better use of technology, flatter management and what he called “a matrix structure” of working.

Quoting Isaac Asimov, Campinos said: “It is change, continuing change, inevitable change, that is the dominant factor in society today. No sensible decision can be made any longer without taking into account not only the world as it is, but the world as it will be.”

Unusual problem

What has made the new building possible, of course, is the popularity of CTM and RCD applications (see chart), resulting in OHIM having an accumulated surplus measured in the hundreds of millions of euros. In a witty speech, Svoboda (a Czech MEP) noted that this poses a unique problem. “We are used to talking about deficits. We have to learn how to pronounce the word ‘surplus’!” he said.

To warm applause, Svoboda also mentioned that he had made the trip to Alicante on the day his native country celebrated the 25th anniversary of the Velvet Revolution. He speculated about how the Communist government in the old Czechoslovakia would have dealt with an agency that continually produced a surplus and concluded: “They would probably say the president has created a problem and he must be replaced. Thank God we do not live in such an environment.”


OHIM officesThe new OHIM building (in the left of the picture) has a striking eco-friendly design, and includes communal working areas and a fitness centre, but its most notable external feature is probably the bars across all the windows. The purpose of these, Managing IP was reliably informed, is to absorb about 35% of the rays from the Mediterranean sun, which can be overpowering in the summer months (you might say it’s a nice problem to have). Malicious rumours that the bars are there to keep the staff inside the office are wide of the mark, apparently.

Hands up for £4.30

One of the distinguished practitioners attending the OHIM ceremony was left red-faced before she even arrived, having borrowed £4.30 from a stranger in the neighbouring aircraft seat to buy a bag of nuts. She promised to repay the money on arrival once she had retrieved her bags, but alas the generous donor was nowhere to be found in the airport terminal, or at the luggage carousel. If you were on the easyJet flight from Gatwick to Alicante on Sunday night, and believe you are owed £4.30, please contact Managing IP and we will put you in touch with the relevant person, who will be only too pleased to clear the debt!

Photos courtesy of OHIM.

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