With its decision of 22 June 2016, the CJEU, the highest European instance in trade mark matters, corrected the previously constant practice of partial renewals of European Union trade marks (EUTM) in favour of the trade mark proprietor. In the actual case in question, and contrary to the lower instances, the CJEU allowed Nissan as owner of a trade mark which was initially only renewed for some of the goods covered by the mark, to subsequently renew the mark in question for the remaining goods at a later date, but still within the six-month grace period after the renewal date. Therefore, the owner of a EUTM can file successive requests for partial renewal.
Change of policy by the CJEU: Application for partial renewal of European Union trademark does not contain an implicit partial renunciation
In the case concerned, Nissan initially only partly renewed its EUTM registration 002 188 118, Word/Device: CVTC. After the usual confirmation of EUIPO of the partial renewal and the notice of the cancellation of the remaining goods, Nissan – still within the six-month grace period - then applied for the renewal of the goods of class 9. After the refusal of EUIPO, Nissan was also unsuccessful before the EUIPO Board of Appeal and the General Court (GC). Although the GC rejected the official practice supported by the Board of Appeal which claims that Nissan had implicitly renounced the non-renewed classes with the only partial renewal request (Art. 50 EUTMR), the GC still held that a successive renewal is inadmissible. Referring to the English version of Art. 47 III 3 EUTMR, the Court viewed the possibility of filing a request for renewal after the end of the original deadline to be dependent on the condition that no renewal request was filed during this deadline.
In contrast, the CJEU has cleared the way for a successive renewal of a EUTM within the grace period:
- In principle, providing for the possibility of continuously requesting renewal of a EUTM registration and the additional grace period reflects the economic importance of the protection conferred by EU trade marks to facilitate the retention by the proprietors of those trademarks of their exclusive rights.
- Further language versions of Art. 47 III 1 EUTMR suggest that the EU legislature made the submission of a request for renewal of a EUTM during the further period conditional only upon the payment of an additional fee and not that a request for renewal has not already been filed; therefore, Art. 47 EUTMR does not give rise to a ban on requests for renewal which are filed at staggered intervals and which refer to different goods or services classes.
- Reasons of legal certainty, linked to the erga omnes effect of registering a request for partial renewal of an EUTM from the day following the date on which the existing registration of that mark expires, do not preclude the successive requests for renewal. The EUIPO is under no obligation to register a request for partial renewal prior to the expiry of the further period. Moreover, instead of removing certain classes of goods or services from the register, EUIPO could take information measures that would enable both the right of proprietors of EUTMs and the right of third parties to be safeguarded.
The decision affects a constellation which occurs more frequently in practice than thought at first glance: a trade mark owner initially only renews a part of its EUTM. Afterwards – but still within the six-month grace period – he decides on a more comprehensive renewal of the remaining part of the trade mark or of parts of it. According to the previous practice, a request for only a partial renewal of an EUTM was seen as implicit and definitive surrender of its remaining rights. Consequently, the partial renewal led to a definite loss of trade mark rights. A “readjustment” was, thereby, excluded.
The clarification of the CJEU proprietor is as legally convincing as it is to be welcomed by trade mark proprietors. The CJEU has, thereby, put paid to the Office’s practice which curtailed the property rights of trade mark owners by way of a highly dubious interpretation as an implicit partial surrender. This disregard was presumably due to a practical convenience of the EUIPO in favour of a speedy registration of the partial renewal. It remains to be seen how the EUIPO – from a practical point of view – implements the statement of the CJEU that the Office was under no obligation to process renewal requests prior to the expiration of the grace period. This might lead to a delay of the processing of the renewal request until after the grace period. In any case, third parties – for example during the course of trademark clearance searches – have to pay more attention to the issue of the recordal of an only partially renewed EUTM.