The European Union has welcomed a new Member State, as Croatia has become the 28th country to join the EU on 1 July 2013. This will have a great impact on Community Trademarks (CTM), Registered Community Designs (RCD) and potentially the Unitary Patent System.
The accession means that from the date of accession protection granted Community trademarks and registered community designs has been extended to automatically cover Croatia without any need for holders to take action or pay extra fees.
A country accession leads to a number of questions, and some transitional provisions have been put in place to safeguard both CTM holders and holders of national Croatian rights.
Firstly, owners of earlier national rights may prohibit the use of extended CTMs in Croatia if (i) the earlier rights were registered, applied for or acquired in Croatia prior to 1 July 2013, and (ii) if the earlier rights were acquired in good faith.
Secondly, CTM registrations and pending applications up to the 1 July 2013 cannot be challenged on the basis of absolute grounds for refusal as a result of the accession. Therefore an existing registration that consists of a word that is descriptive in Croatian cannot be met with an invalidity claim.
Finally, owners of corresponding national Croatian and CTMs have the option of incorporating the protection afforded by the Croatian right into the CTM claiming priority. The protection for the CTM will then be back dated in Croatia and the national Croatian right may then be allowed to lapse at next renewal date.
As for patents Croatia’s accession to the EU does not mean that Croatian patents automatically can be enforced outside Croatia. However, now that Croatia is a member of the EU they will be free to opt in to the Unitary Patent package.
Croatia will most likely not be the only country to join the European Union in the foreseeable future, and therefore the territorial coverage of CTMs will continue to grow. At this moment Macedonia, Montenegro, Serbia, Turkey and Iceland are candidates for joining the EU.