Motion to Approve
My Lords, as with earlier instruments on exhaustion and patents, this was debated on 14 January in Grand Committee, where noble Lords raised questions about the consultation and impact assessment process. Noble Lords also put some questions on technical points specific to this SI, seeking clarification on ongoing proceedings, costs and priority dates of pending applications. I repeat my thanks to all noble Lords who shared their time and expertise with the Committee on those matters. I addressed many of the points raised in my letter of 21 January to Members of the Committee. I hope that my answers were helpful and have met the expectations of noble Lords who took part.
The Government have laid these regulations to ensure continued protection in the UK for EU trademarks, thereby providing businesses with maximum security, clarity and certainty. Under current law, businesses can obtain an EU trademark, which, as a unitary right, provides protection across the whole of the EU. When we leave the EU, that protection will no longer extend to the UK. To address this, the Government will create a comparable UK trademark for every EU right that is registered on and before exit day. These comparable trademarks will inherit earlier filing and priority dates recorded against the corresponding EU trademarks and will be fully independent UK rights that can be challenged, assigned, licensed or renewed separately from the original EU trademark. Each comparable trademark will be created automatically and free of charge, meaning that a minimum administrative burden will be placed on rights holders. Those not seeking to hold comparable UK trademarks will be able to opt out by notifying the IPO. The instrument also sets out the Government’s approach for accommodating the 85,000 trademark applications which are pending before the EU Intellectual Property Office on exit day.
A number of technical issues were raised both during and after Grand Committee. Given my answers in my letter to noble Lords, I shall focus on those outstanding concerns which were raised subsequent to my letter. The noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, inquired in Grand Committee about the effect of priority dates on pending applications and compatibility with the Paris convention. I was pleased to have a meeting with the noble Baroness and trademark legal professionals to discuss these and other matters that she raised. At that meeting I clarified that we believe the instrument is compatible with the UK’s obligations under the provisions of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, which contain rules on claiming international priority.
I remain confident that the chosen approach provides the most practical means for preserving the rights of pending EU trademark applications. In respect of issues identified with the conversion of EU trademarks, I have also confirmed to the noble Baroness that such rights will be preserved via provisions contained in the Interpretation Act 1978. A copy of my letter, which addresses the noble Baroness’s concerns on both the Paris convention and conversion rights, will be placed in the Libraries of both Houses. I found our discussions on these two issues most helpful, and was grateful to the noble Baroness for her valuable insight as a trademark and patent attorney. Building on those discussions, I will ensure that her points are reflected in business guidance to be published by the IPO closer to exit day.
In conclusion, these regulations are vital to ensure that businesses do not lose their trademark protection in the UK, and to ensure the continued effectiveness of our domestic trademark system if we do not secure a deal with the EU. I hope noble Lords will support the draft regulations, which I believe provide businesses with clarity and certainty regarding their intellectual property. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I declare my interests. I am a retired European patent and trademark attorney, but, if I were to un-retire, I would find myself among those unfortunates who, going forward, would no longer be able to practise before the EUIPO in respect of trademarks and designs. This matter—that a part of professionals’ representation is cut off—is not one we have discussed before. My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones was interested to hear what the Minister had to say on the issue, and to confirm my interpretation that current UK representatives will no longer be representatives is correct.
This SI largely replicates the provision in the withdrawal agreement, so it is not really a no-deal SI; it is the shape of the SI that will happen in due course—if there is a deal—possibly with some minor changes to dates and other things, but I could not see anything that differed from what one would expect under the withdrawal agreement.
As the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has explained, I had a long meeting with him and officials from the department and the IPO; I thank them very much for their time and for listening to my views and those of some representatives. I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, but I did a little secret consultation myself, just to make sure that, being retired, I had not lost the plot. What I wanted was a statement that there would be continuity of rights at the point of Brexit so that, although the SI was internally consistent under UK law—it gave clear instructions as to what our courts would decide—it would also neatly fit within the usual conventions. That required only an assertion, which we have effectively had, that the rights continue—rather than dying and, in some way, being resurrected.
The letter that the noble Lord, Lord Henley, has now placed in the Library, and which was addressed to me on 4 February, is interesting. First, he deals with the priority rights that I discussed in the Moses Room in Grand Committee. The second issue I raised was about an EU trademark application that was refused before Brexit but, under the rules, it can be converted to a national application by applying at the EU end for three months. There was concern that there is no mention of what happened to those applications and to that conversion right. Was is lost or was it not? Some representatives thought that it was lost.
The letter refers to the Interpretation Act, and it is worth pointing out what that Act says. It confirms that an Act that repeals an enactment does not affect,
“any right, privilege, obligation or liability acquired, accrued or incurred under that enactment”.
The letter goes on to say that the EU trademark regulation will constitute EU retained law for the purposes of the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018; and that pursuant to the power in that Act, it is repealed and replaced by the UK regulation. This solves the problem. There is a definite assertion here that the right to convert will be retained but the conversion will be done entirely before the UK IPO, instead of starting it off in the EU. This general application of the Interpretation Act would apply to any regulations, not just these; it might be applied to those on patents that we have just discussed. That is one reason why I asked that the letter be put in the Library. It is possible that we contemplated this when we were going round the loop of the withdrawal Act, but I had misplaced it in my mind, and that might be the case for other noble Lords.
I am satisfied that it is “job done” on the confirmation of continuity and the issues I sought reassurance on. I am also grateful to the Minister for explaining that the Government will take into account the various other measures we raised, which are much more to do with practice.
The salient point here is that some 60% of trademark applications are made by individuals for their own businesses, without professional assistance. So it is quite important that the advice the IPO is able to give keeps them up to speed with changes that they might not be aware of, such as that they still have the conversion right and for how long.
There is still a matter to be dealt with: for nine months, there are latent rights hanging about. If you file a trademark application, it might look like the way is clear and then, all of a sudden, it is not, because people want to continue with the one they have under the EU. The question is how the IPO is to deal with notification, so that an applicant knows the full picture before making decisions that might be otherwise prejudicial to their rights when deciding whether to go ahead and have notice sent to people or to withdraw their application. My proposal was that they have to have the right to be able to suspend until that nine-month period is over, if it looks as though there is something in their way. Obviously, this is not a matter for this statutory instrument, but it will turn out to be a matter of concern if a significant number of those 85,000 applications are continued with. From what I can gather, it is likely that more than half will be, so intervening applicants will have a difficult nine months to navigate.
My Lords, we discussed this SI in some detail in Grand Committee and so there is very little more to be said. The Minister, in his letter of six and a half pages—or is it eight?—covered a number of points also. We have since then had another letter—I have printed it out on my own machine and have it in front of me and so can measure it; it is a page and a half, if he wishes to know the detail—which has added a considerable amount, including the rather interesting extemporary view that the UK Interpretation Act 1978 confirms different powers about these regulations, and which might be of more relevance in some other areas of work that we still have to consider.
We are very lucky to have the expertise of the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, available to us on this issue. She has been able to keep us right on a number of points. My point follows from hers in that this SI is moving away from simply trying to establish what continuity would mean in the context of a no-deal exit by offering something valuable to those who hold trademarks in the EU and wish to continue business in the UK after Brexit.
It could be argued—I am not saying that it should be—that it is right to apply what will apply in the EU to this issue: in a no-deal exit, the UK would register those who wished to register UK trademarks here and leave aside the question of what rights trademarks registered in the EU would have here. That is not what the Government have decided. I believe they have agreed that rights registered in the EU will be recognised within the UK. I will not ignore the clear benefit there for consumers, but it must be detrimental to current and future UK holders of trademarks who will not be able to register them in the same way as they would had we stayed in the EU.
I do not think that there is a right or wrong answer to that—it is probably where we would want to get to at some point—but it implies a reciprocal activity on behalf of the EU which is still not present. It is foreshadowed in the withdrawal agreement and may well come to pass. If there is a deal, we would probably expect to have a parallel process. If we will continue to operate on intellectual property on all fours, particularly in relation to data protection, this is exactly where we will have to go. That may be right in policy terms, but it marks out this statutory instrument as different from the others. I do not think that the Minister needs to give us too much of a response, because it is a fact, rather than an issue. If he confirms that this is the situation, it would be helpful to have it on the record.
My Lords, this was the famous statutory instrument which referred to consultation with,
“a small group of trusted individuals”.
We had a long discussion in Grand Committee about who should or should not be trusted at the Government’s discretion. This was not satisfactorily resolved. However, the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, has continued those conversations; I am sure that her discussions were with wholly trusted individuals and that her further discussions with the Minister have led to improvements in the regime that will follow from the statutory instrument.
I would like the Minister to clarify the issue of renewal fees so that I and the people reading our proceedings fully understand it. This was raised in Grand Committee, and the noble Lord referred to it in his six and a half page letter. As I understand it, the key passage is about what happens when people need to hold two sets of trademarks, rather than one, after renewal. I want to be clear that I have understood this correctly: the letter from the noble Lord, Lord Henley, says that around 10% of trademarks which are renewed each year,
“are held by UK businesses, and so we estimate that 60% of the 1.3 million newly-created comparable UK trade marks will be renewed at an annual cost to UK business of around £2.5 million in additional renewal fees”.
Are those wholly additional fees that businesses and individuals will have to pay, over and above what they would pay at the moment? Have I correctly understood that they need to pay those fees because they are very likely to need to hold two sets of trademarks—for the EU and the UK—in parallel? This has come out only through our consideration of this instrument and was not clear in the initial consultation or the Explanatory Memorandum. I am not in this industry, but this would seem to be a significant additional burden. People need to be aware. Case by case, we are seeing all of these additional burdens as a result of a no-deal Brexit. It is deplorable that we are imposing additional costs on businesses and individuals in this cavalier way.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who have spoken. I was particularly grateful to hear the noble Baroness say—I think I have this right—the words, “job done”. I hope we can get this order on the statute book. Although the noble Baroness brings great expertise to this matter, there are others—I dare say the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, would agree—who do not have that same degree of expertise. There is to some extent the sense of cold towels wrapped around our heads and strong black coffee as we consider these difficult and technical matters. We are grateful for that expertise. Even if the noble Baroness has now retired from this area, we will continue to discuss these issues with her and other trusted individuals, with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, and with anyone else—trusted, untrusted or otherwise—who has a relevant concern in these matters; it is very important to do so. As the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, put it—so well, as always—there are benefits to the owners of trademarks and benefits to consumers; it is therefore appropriate that we strike the right balance between those two groups. Dealing with conflicting rights is one of the difficult things that those in government have to do.
The noble Baroness asked about representation at the EU Intellectual Property Office. The EU trademark regulation mandates that a representative must be based in an EU member state in order to represent clients before the EU Intellectual Property Office. Officials in the IPO and in the Ministry of Justice are aware of this issue and have held many discussions with representative groups. As we turn to the future economic partnership, we will seek a comprehensive arrangement on trade and services, including professional and business services.
I want to make it quite clear, as I did in Grand Committee, that we believe it important that the guidance we offer to business is targeted and clear, particularly as the noble Baroness stressed the number of unrepresented businesses. Although the sensible thing would be to take advice from the noble Baroness’s profession, clearly many people prefer to avoid those in the legal and other professions. We will ensure that the right guidance is offered and highlight the importance of searching the EU register. I am grateful to her for raising those issues again.
The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, raised the subject of renewal fees and costs and referred to some remarks from my letter. Analysis of existing UK rights shows that the average cost of renewing a comparable right will be approximately £300, due every 10 years. If rights owners do not wish to renew their UK trademark, for example because they have no interest in preserving UK protection, they do not have to pay the fee. But, as the letter makes clear, businesses will incur additional costs should they want to enforce their UK-compatible rights or defend them against a challenge. That cost will vary depending on the length of proceedings and the amount of evidence considered. However, as the letter says, the IPO estimates that the total cost to UK businesses would be around £330,000 per year. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, can make use of that information as he wishes in any discussion of the merits or otherwise of Brexit.
On his last point, the noble Lord, Lord Stevenson, will appreciate that it is only possible for us to pass legislation affecting the UK. The withdrawal agreement will provide for reciprocal measures with the EU, when and if that is agreed. I believe I have answered all the questions put to me.