24 May 2022TrademarksMuireann Bolger

Brexit fuels surge in UK trademark disputes

The number of UK trademark disputes has more than doubled to a record high in the wake of Britain’s departure from the European Union, new research has revealed.

The number of oppositions to UK trade mark applications has increased to 8,026 in 2021, up from 3,584 in 2020,  according to IP firm Mathys & Squire.

Recent disputes over well-known trademarks in the UK have included:

Amazon opposed an application by a Dubai-based coffee producer covering a range of food and drinks products with a similar mark.

McDonald’s opposed an application to register the trademark ‘McVegan’ in the UK. It won and was awarded costs.

Shine TV, the producer of the BBC’s MasterChef TV series, successfully opposed three applications for marks incorporating the words “Master chef Academy” for education and training services.

A major rush

The rise in disputes over UK trademarks has been primarily driven by Brexit, the law firm noted.

The UK left the EU trademark system in January 2021, meaning that any business wishing to protect a trademark in the UK now needs to make a separate application in the UK.

This has caused a major rush to file trademark applications, resulting in a surge in the number of oppositions being filed.

Earlier this year, Mathys & Squire found there had been a record number of applications for trademarks, with 195,000 applied for in 2020/21, up 54% from 127,000 in 2019/20.

Commenting on the findings, Harry Rowe, managing associate at Mathys & Squire, said: “The Brexit-fuelled dash to file trademarks in the UK has inevitably led to more disputes. Businesses need to ensure that they police the register to maintain the distinctiveness and value of their brands.”

A new battlefield for business

“It is likely that there is no short-term spike in disputes: this is what trademark protection in the UK is now going to look like.

“Brexit has opened up a whole new battlefield for businesses with valuable brands to protect.

He noted that before Brexit, trademark owners could protect their trademark across all the EU member states in one application.

“Now that the UK is no longer covered in an EU trademark, trademark owners must file two separate applications in order to achieve the same protection. There is now twice as much ground to cover for businesses seeking to protect their investment in their brands.”

This “elevated level of trademark applications, and disputes related to them”, is likely to be a long-term trend, according to the firm.

Commenting on the research, a spokesperson for the IPO said: “Intellectual Property is essential to making the UK the most innovative and creative country in the world, and trademark applications have been increasing for over a decade. The UK market remains vibrant, as reflected in the growing number of trade mark applications being made to the UK IPO. As the number of applications has grown, the number of oppositions has risen in line with the increase.

"We know customers value our high quality of service, with a customer satisfaction score of over 85%. We had been planning for the end of the Brexit transition period—and generally increased volumes of trade mark applicationsfor some time, successfully registering 2.5 million EU IPO rights onto our systems as comparable UK rights when we left the EU. Our turnaround times for applications and dispute resolutions remain in line with our annually published targets, and we expect to maintain current service levels for the foreseeable future”.

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