31 May 2016Trademarks

Fighting IP infringement in a financial crisis

Founded in 1896 and officially working in the intellectual property field since 1900, law firm Vayanos Kostopoulos prides itself on “introducing IP law to Greece”.

The history and professional experience of the firm have been “a pleasant burden to bear” for Nikolaos Lyberis, managing partner of Vayanos Kostopoulos, who ensures that the firm remains as effective and professional as it has always been.

Based in Athens, the firm focuses solely on IP matters including trademarks, patents, designs, customs seizures, domain names, unfair competition law, commercial law, contracts, consumer protection law and food and advertising law. With nine attorneys employed, Vayanos Kostopoulos undertakes both prosecution and litigation matters.

Lyberis says the current economic climate in Greece is a major hurdle to securing IP rights in the country. Greece’s refinancing of its public debt has resulted in reductions in staff in, and cuts in loans to, the public sector, making the overall service slower.

For example, despite the numerous customs seizures across Greece, cuts to spending and reductions in staff have taken their toll.

“Given that the public sector is undergoing financial restructuring, warehousing expenses can’t be covered by the state,” he tells WIPR.

“Although the authorities are successful in seizing goods, in many cases clients may be obliged to cover the warehousing expenses. If the client is not willing to pay for warehousing, the goods may be released to the market.”

Lyberis explains that this makes the situation more complicated for the firm’s clients as they then have to sue the importers and merchants who try to move the counterfeit goods to various provinces across Greece.

He adds: “We can still help in these situations, but it’s a more time-consuming and costly procedure for our clients.”

Unified customs efforts

The Central Anti-Counterfeiting Policy Committee, which operates with the participation and representation of customs officers, police authorities and officers of the ministries of development and justice, unifies the approach to custom seizures across Greece.

Given Greece’s numerous borders, this is not an easy task, but there have been a number of accomplishments in northern Greece and across the Greek islands. The mission of the committee has been made more difficult because of a shortage of personnel.

“We are in permanent communication with the highest level of officers and we can understand from their anxiety that they need help to conclude matters. They need more staff as they have to be vigilant 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” he says.

This is especially true during the tourist season in Greece. Each year, infringement levels peak between June and September.

“We need to attract investors back into Greece and they won’t come if the judicial and administrative conditions are not brought into line with European standards."

“We see a number of differentiations in the type of infringement throughout these months: the language used, the packaging, and the use of product characteristics well known to tourists. These are products and trademarks that are sometimes not well known to Greek consumers, but they are to the tourists,” Lyberis explains.

Education needed

It’s not just an increase in the number of staff that is required, but a more in-depth education for those dealing with IP infringements.

In discussing this challenge, Lyberis recognises that education of staff is partially covered by the European Union Intellectual Property Office, the European Patent Office and the World Intellectual Property Organization, but adds that there are a number of things that still must be done.

He believes that the state authorities should continue their effort of presenting European case law to Greek judges and the IP officers in a way that continues to raise the standards of court judgments and examiners’ decisions to a higher level.

“We need to attract investors back into Greece and they won’t come if the judicial and administrative conditions are not brought into line with European standards. This is a key instrument in starting a new phase of development,” he says.

Greece has two courts handling EU trademark infringements: one in Athens (which oversees central and southern Greece and the islands) and one in Thessaloniki (which oversees northern Greece), as well as adjudicating on patent and design conflicts and related matters of IP law.

In the firm’s experience, the benches are well-qualified and work well despite the aforementioned difficulties and lack of staff.

“There is always room for improvement, especially within the infrastructure. The core matters of IP law are handled in a proper way by these two benches, but improvement of the bureaucratic aspects of the law is desperately needed,” explains Lyberis.

Fighting online infringement

When asked by WIPR how the firm deals with ever-increasing online IP infringement, Lyberis outlines the two-pronged strategy that Vayanos Kostopoulos employs.

“First, there are civil law measures that can be taken. For urgent matters, we can apply for interlocutory injunctions. In certain more provocative and evident cases, we can also obtain an interim order from the reference judge of the civil court of the place of infringement within 24 hours to seize the infringing goods.

“The second level of action includes recourse before the National Telecommunications and Post Commission.”

This state authority is responsible for the administration of domain names and the internet in Greece. On behalf of clients, Vayanos Kostopoulos applies for an order to immediately discontinue an infringing domain.

The firm has handled a number of important cases. Looking through the archives, Lyberis notes that the firm has dealt with the patent for the elevator that was invented by manufacturer Otis, and the trademark and patent for Aspirin, which was invented in 1899.

The firm is not stuck in the past though; in Greece it currently represents companies across all branches of industry including Daimler, Delhaize Group and Ikea.

“Recently we represented Ikea in Greece. IkeaPharm Enterprise had infringed the ‘Ikea’ trademark and design in both the physical and digital worlds,” explains Lyberis.

The court decision included an interim order for the immediate cease-and-desist of infringing acts and the halting of the defendant’s portal operation under the infringing domain name. Punitive damages were also granted.

Vayanos Kostopoulos has also represented Focus, a German magazine owned by global media company Hubert Burda Media. The brand had been infringed by local editors and publishers who had used the name for various activities. A court forced the infringers to stop using the brand.

On top of that, Lyberis currently serves as secretary of the Hellenic group of the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property and is a member of the European Communities Trade Mark Association’s council.

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