4 Sep 2017

Auntie Jane's Trade Mark Tips: No 8 - Oppositions in the Trade Mark Registry

Intellectual Property Office in Newport

Jane Lambert

In my last trade mark tip, I talked about publication and some of the consequences. In most cases, there are no consequences at all. Your application is published in the Trade Marks Journal and nobody bats an eyelid. If there are no objections the application proceeds to registration as the infographic indicates. But sometimes the Intellectual Property Office receives third party observations which the examiner considers and or even an opposition.

An "opposition" is an application to the Intellectual Property Office to stop the registration of the sign that you want to register as a trade mark. It can be made on any or all of the absolute grounds for refusal mentioned in my sixth trade mark tip and/or the grounds that the objector has an earlier trade mark or an earlier right under s.5 of the Trade Marks Act 1994. An "earlier trade mark" is a trade mark that has been registered for the UK or the EU, an international mark, an application for any of those marks, or a mark that is protected as a well-known mark under the Paris Convention. An "earlier right" is the right to bring an action for passing off, copyright or any other IP right infringement or some other claim that would prevent your using the trade mark. These are known as "relative grounds for refusal".

Your first inkling that you may have a problem could be a letter from the patent or trade mark attorneys or solicitors for the objector setting out the objection and the reasons for it and inviting you to withdraw your trade mark application.  Sometimes it is accompanied by a form TM7A or notice of threatened opposition. This is one of the times when you may need legal advice either from a barrister or solicitor specializing in IP law or a trade mark or patent attorney.

If you decide to proceed with your application, the objector may issue opposition proceedings which he or she does by filling in a form TM7 or a TM7F. The objector (who has now become an "opponent") will fill in a TM7F if he or she wants a fast track opposition. Fast track proceedings are available where the opposition is based on s.5 (1) or (2) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 and the application to register the earlier mark was made less than 5 years ago. The main advantage is that costs awards are limited to £500 but the disadvantage is that there is not usually a hearing. In all other cases, opposition proceedings are to be launched with a form TM7.  If you want to defend your application you must file a notice of defence and counterstatement in form TM8 within 2 months of the service of form TM7.

I described what happens next in some detail in Oppositions in the IPO's Trade Marks Registry on 12 Aug 2015 in NIPC London. Basically, the case goes before a hearing officer who may give a preliminary indication as to how he thinks the case will go. If the case proceeds, the hearing officer will direct the parties to file evidence. If you are unable to resolve your dispute opposition through direct negotiation or perhaps mediation the hearing officer may decide the case on the written materials only or order a hearing if you or the opponent so wishes. That will usually take place at the Intellectual Property Office in Newport with one or both of the parties sitting in London or occasionally elsewhere. It tends to follow the usual course of civil proceedings with the opponent opening and closing and the applicant responding. Judgment is usually reserved for several weeks and is delivered in writing. An unsuccessful party may appeal either to a tribunal within the IPO known as "the appointed person" or to the Chancery Division of the High Court.

If the opposition fails either before the hearing officer or on appeal the trade mark application to register the trade mark proceeds to grant. If it succeeds the application is stopped in its tracks.

That is quite enough for one day. If you want to discuss this tip or trade marks generally, call me on +44 (0)20 7404 5252 or send me a message through my contact form.

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