16 May 2017Trademarks

A modern system for an ancient country

The new European trademark regulation, which entered into force in March 2016, is enhancing IP protection in Greece, according to Nikolaos Lyberis, managing partner of Vayanos Kostopoulos law firm in Athens.

The regulation was published in December 2015 and is part of the EU trademark reform legislative package. This package also includes the replacement of the existing trademark directive.

Although there are several remarkable changes in the trademark regulation, the most important one, in Lyberis’s opinion, is the abolition of graphic representation as a long-established element of the legal definition of a trademark.

This means that non-traditional marks, such as sounds and smells, could now be registered. For example, sounds can be represented with an electronic sound file.

He adds: “I wonder, however, if there might be some practical difficulties with smell, and other non-conventional types of marks.”

According to Lyberis, the recently introduced changes in EU law have strengthened the trademark system in Greece as well.

“The trademark protection system has in principle been successful in offering unitary protection in the EU area, especially speedy and cost-sensitive registration procedure and maintenance.”

However, he explains that one should be cautious under certain circumstances due to the parallel existence of national, European and international trademark protection systems.

“For instance, in the case of a trademark conflict between an EU trademark and an international trademark with extension to Greece, the latter is subject to examination on relative grounds for refusal while the former is not. Thus, revocation and/or invalidation actions might prove decisive for the outcome of such conflicts.”

He adds: “Furthermore, the cost for conversion of a European trademark into national trademarks in the case of its partial or total rejection by the European Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) may sometimes turn out to be much higher for the trademark proprietor than initially expected.”

Another noteworthy aspect of EU trademark law, Lyberis explains, is the burden of providing evidence of genuine use in a substantial part of the EU market in order to use the European trademark as a legal basis in terms of prior right against later applications or registrations. Careful review of available evidence of use of a prior right is therefore highly recommendable before launching the relevant legal means.

Looking at the now available innovations at the EUIPO, Lyberis would highlight the trademark searching tool TMview providing access to data from numerous trademark registries from around the world.

This, Lyberis argues, is important to users who obtain access to huge amounts of useful information very fast and free of charge.

However, he stresses that it is still essential for new or less experienced users to realise that said data only offer information that, in a number of cases including the Greek registry, may sometimes not reflect the current status of the marks.

“So in addition to accessing of the TMview data, it is crucial that one consults a local attorney in order to make a final decision,” says Lyberis.

The recent case law of the Greek courts has been satisfactory for the protection of famous marks, according to Lyberis.

He says: “The IP bench of the Greek civil courts on EU trademark matters has issued a number of interesting decisions, affirming the enhanced protection that famous marks deserve against infringement in the Greek territory.”

In a recent decision the court enforced the trademark of homeware company Ikea against an infringement taking place in the digital as well as the physical world. The Ikea case concerned an e-shop offering para-pharmaceutical and personal care products which made illicit use of the famous Ikea brand.

“The IP bench of the Greek civil courts on EU trademark matters has issued a number of interesting decisions, affirming the enhanced protection that famous marks deserve against infringement in the Greek territory.”

In another well-reasoned decision the court granted enhanced protection to the famous brand Nivea Creme (word and device) against another cosmetic product which, despite its different name, infringed Nivea’s trade dress. The court found that the infringer sought to obtain illicit profit through the use of Nivea’s characteristic dark blue round container with white lettering on it, which as part of the earlier famous brand is a recognisable source indicator.

“These cases have confirmed that the Greek IP courts do offer reasonable and substantial protection to famous brands.”

With regard to Greece’s anti-counterfeiting policy measures, Lyberis explains that there have been a series of successful raids with the police.

“There have also been numerous seizures at the various entrances of the country, such as airports and harbours targeted at products such as tobacco, apparel, jewellery, pharmaceuticals, toys and others.”

With such successful anti-counterfeiting measures and the wider changes to trademark legislation, Greece is heading in the right direction towards solidifying a strong IP system.

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