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Internal Market, Industry, Entrepreneurship and SMEs

Trade mark protection in the EU

Trade mark registration is one of the most effective ways to build and defend a brand. In Europe, trade marks can be registered at national level as a national trade mark or at EU-level as a European Union trade mark. The European Commission continually monitors the trade mark system in the EU to identify ways to improve its effectiveness and accessibility for businesses.

What are trade marks?

A trade mark is a sign which distinguishes the goods and services of one company from those of another. As indicators of business origin, trade marks can be words, logos, devices or other distinctive features, or a combination of these. They can also be referred to as 'brands'.

A trade mark can become one of a company’s most important assets. It is the mark through which a business can attract and retain customer loyalty, and create value and growth. The trade mark works in this case as an engine of innovation as the necessity to keep it relevant promotes investments in R&D, which in turn leads to a continuous process of product improvement and development. This dynamic process also has a favourable impact on employment.

According to the findings of a joint study between the former Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM. Now the European Union Intellectual Property Office) and the European Patent Office (EPO) published in September 2013, almost 21% of all jobs in the EU during the period 2008 to 2010 (i.e. the jobs of around 45.5 million Europeans) were created by trade mark-intensive industries. Over the same period, these industries were shown to have generated almost 34% of total economic activity (GDP) in the EU, worth EUR 4.16 trillion.

Registering a trade mark is a way to ensure that no one else uses it.

Dual system of protection in the EU

There are two main ways to register a trade mark in the EU. They can either be registered at national level at the industrial property offices of EU countries, or at EU level as a ‘European Union trade mark’ (EUTM) at the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO).

National and EUTMs coexist and are complementary to each other. The same trade mark can be registered at EU and/or national level. The EUTM system consists of one single registration procedure that grants the owner an exclusive right in all EU countries. This dual system meets the requirements of companies of different sizes, markets and geographical presence. National trade marks may be better for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) or local firms who don’t need EU-wide protection. The laws governing national trade mark registration in the EU were first harmonised in 1989. The EU trade mark was created in 1994.