“Asia is the center of the world today,” says OHIM President António Campinos, who is visiting Hong Kong for the first time this week as part of the Office’s delegation to INTA, adding that the region is “massively important” for OHIM.
The Office is seeing soaring filings of Community trade marks (CTMs) and registered Community designs (RCDs) from Asia-based applicants. While total filings grow at about 5% a year, filings from Asia have increased much more sharply (see chart). Campinos explains: “Between 2009 and 2013 the number of applications has doubled. From China alone the number of applications has tripled and it might overcome Japan next year.”
He expects the trend to continue, driven both by economic growth and increased interest in protecting IP rights: “There are two phenomena; one is linked to growth, and the other is that the growth in applications has overtaken growth in GDP.”
But growth also poses challenges, of course. For one thing, more registered rights means it is increasingly important to provide databases and services that help users find and share information. OHIM is at the center of developing such tools, as part of the European Trade Mark and Design Network.
One of these tools is TMClass, which enables trademark users to search and translate terms between languages. In March this year, China’s State Administration of Industry and Commerce (SAIC) became the 36th office to join the system, meaning that it covers 28 languages including Chinese. Campinos said he expects that more countries will join TMClass, as well as TMView, an online search tool that now provides access to more than 20 million trademarks (and which may soon be extended to the Asean countries), and the Common Harmonized Database, which includes 60,000 terms for products and services. Already one in four applicants use this database when filing. “I really think we need to have global databases fast as this universe grows. We need to look at what exists and have powerful search engines to find what we need,” says Campinos.
Another challenge posed by the growth in applications is maintaining and improving quality. Campinos stresses that “tightening controls and leveling up the quality of work” is a priority for the Office. It measures quality in various ways, including through internal checks, user surveys and by tracking the reversal rate of OHIM’s decisions in court. Last year, the Office’s success rate at the CJEU General Court rose to 86.5% from 77.3%.
Quality is also important to ensure that users have an efficient, effective and cheap service, and this is increasingly being delivered online. Last year, OHIM rolled out a major redesign of its website, but the launch was by Campinos’s own admission “unsuccessful” as many users experienced problems, including being unable to file applications electronically. “I have to apologize,” says Campinos. “It was not the level of quality you should expect from OHIM. We disrupted users’ activities and businesses.” In the weeks after the launch, many users reverted to filing by fax but since the problems have been addressed, e-filings are increasing again, including for designs and CTM renewals. In addition, 30,000 secure accounts have been set up and half of all name and address changes are now done electronically. “By the end of this year, we’ll be able to tell users whether we’ve given them value for money. I think the numbers will be impressive,” says Campinos.
The improvements to the website and the enhanced cooperation with other offices are both parts of OHIM’s broader Strategic Plan, which Campinos set out after he became President in 2010. That Plan is now 78% complete, with a year and a half of his term still to go. Another part of it will be achieved later this year, when OHIM opens a new building at its headquarters in Alicante, Spain.
Looking ahead, the next big challenge for OHIM is likely to come from the revisions being planned to the CTM Regulation, which are now being debated by EU member states. The changes have been delayed, and it is not yet clear when they will come into effect, or what exactly they will include, but Campinos says the Office is already preparing: “We have to move fast to adjust our internal procedures and IT systems. It will have an impact on the budget, for sure.”
One key change proposed is to adjust the fees so that CTM applicants will no longer get three classes for the price of one. At present, it is felt that many applicants take advantage of this rule to seek broader protection than they need. Indeed, OHIM’s own statistics show that on average there are 2.9 classes per application. Campinos says he welcomes the Commission’s proposal to amend the fees, but adds that it will have “huge budgetary consequences” for the Office.
Despite the proposed changes, though, CTM fees—like those in many other offices—remain greater than the cost of the service provided, particularly for services such as renewals. Campinos accepts this, but points out that they also go towards funding activities that benefit trademark owners. At OHIM, that now includes the new EU Observatory on Infringements of IP Rights (a department within OHIM), which conducts research and runs programs to combat counterfeiting, and the 19 tools so far launched under the Cooperation Fund. As well as promoting harmonization, these have led to the development (sometimes for the first time) of new services such as online filing in some offices. As Campinos explains: “Fees must not only reflect the cost of the service but also the cost of the activity, and the price of an exclusive right that is granted for a market covering 500 million citizens.”
OHIM hosts the CTM and RCD Users’ Meeting from 2:30 to 4:00 pm today in Convention Hall A.
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