On 16 October, the Foreign Affairs Council adopted new EU autonomous measures reinforcing the sanctions on North Korea imposed by the UN Security Council, effective immediately. They include a total ban on EU investment in North Korea across all sectors, whereas previously the ban related to certain sectors, such as the arms industry and chemical industries. Also, there is a total ban on the sale of refined petroleum products and crude oil. The amount of personal remittances to North Korea has been lowered from €15,000 to €5,000 in light of suspicions that they are being used in support of nuclear and ballistic missile programmes. In addition, three persons and six entities were added to the list of those subject to an asset freeze and travel restrictions.
It is one of the ironies of history that the EU as it is today, starting with the single market, was largely made in Britain, the achievement, above all, of former prime minister Margaret Thatcher and her right-hand man in Brussels, the then Commissioner (Lord) Arthur Cockfield. The single market has long been viewed by observers in countries with less of a free market tradition as a typically British liberal invention. And yet it is this market, as well as the EU itself, that another Conservative government is now seeking to leave.
Britain has also left its stamp on key EU initiatives from regional policy to development assistance and fisheries. The EU’s interest in a common foreign and security policy originally stemmed from Britain. The EU’s comparatively transparent and accountable administrative rules date from the reforms introduced by former British Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock when he was Vice-President of the European Commission from 1999 to 2004. Thus, representatives of Britain’s two major parties have helped to make the EU what it is today.
If British prime ministers had explained to public opinion earlier the extent of their country’s influence on the EU, something that other Europeans never doubted, the referendum of 23 June 2016 might never have occurred.
A “Smooth and Sensible” Brexit
Be that as it may, Europeans on both sides of the English Channel are now grappling with the consequences of that vote. If reason and economic interest prevail, a “smooth and sensible” Brexit, as evoked by the British prime minister in Florence in September, might yet emerge.
This would involve a broad agreement, in 2017, on the principal aspects of the divorce settlement. This concerns mainly Britain’s financial commitments to the EU, the residence, professional and health rights of citizens living on both sides of the Channel after Brexit, and the need to maintain the Common Travel Area between Britain and Ireland and to avoid a hard border across the island of Ireland after Brexit. While Brussels, London and Dublin have affirmed their intention of achieving these goals, there are many practical and political issues to resolve.
If sufficient confidence and trust between EU and UK negotiators is established, it should also be possible to agree to the general terms of a future political and economic agreement between London and Brussels by the end of the year and to broach the question of transitional arrangements to smooth the way for government and business. The British government wishes to ensure that business need adjust to Brexit only once, hence the need for a smooth transition to a well-defined future relationship.
If good progress is made next year, the separation agreement and transitional arrangements could be drawn up by October 2018, allowing enough time for approval by EU and British institutions ahead of Britain’s exit from the EU at midnight between 29 and 30 October 2019. Little, except Britain’s lost vote in EU institutions, would then change for the next two to three years, as the UK continued to make payments to the EU budget, respect judgements of the European Court of Justice and accept the free movement of labour.
The breathing space would be used to negotiate, sign and ratify a two-part long-term agreement. The first part would cover trade and economic issues; it could take effect provisionally relatively quickly after agreement had been reached. The second part, though, would be a wide-ranging political agreement, involving security and even aspects of defence. Both sides have an interest in cooperation on armaments production and unconventional forms of conflict, as well as police and judicial affairs. This would involve the member states’ legal responsibilities and require ratification by all twenty-eight countries concerned. It might not come into effect before the mid-late 2020s.
This relatively benign sequence of events assumes that the British government is unified behind its negotiator, David Davies, and that the political situation in Britain and the EU remains generally stable. It also assumes that the EU can move beyond its rigid two-stage sequencing of the negotiations.
However, there may well be political upsets, involving a leadership competition in the Conservative Party and, perhaps, an early general election. The opposition Labour Party may come to power bringing a change in priorities but also differences of opinion in its own ranks. The British economy will be damaged by Brexit, according to leading economists, and public opinion is likely to react when this is widely felt.Until now, the main impact has been a decline in sterling and rising inflation, raising the prospect of higher interest rates.
The “Cliff Edge” Scenario
Such uncertainties, as well as the divergent political agendas of London and Brussels, may make the smooth and sensible Brexit impossible to achieve during the limited time available. This opens the way to a second scenario, widely described in Britain as the cliff edge. Under this hypothesis, the December 2017 goal for achieving a breakthrough in the separation talks is missed. This further postpones discussion of transitional arrangements and a future long-term agreement.
Negotiations continue fitfully during 2018 but the two sides are too far apart to reach agreement by October 2018, which the EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has designated as the effective deadline. If October passes without an overall agreement, it will probably be too late to secure the agreement of the European Parliament before 29 March 2019, when the two-year negotiating period initiated by the British government’s notification of withdrawal expires. Nonetheless, negotiations might well go down to the wire.
Unless all twenty-eight countries “stop the clock” at midnight, an old Brussels ruse, the UK would then leave the EU without an agreement. Business leaders have warned of the chaos this will bring. There will be an unmanageable fivefold increase in work at British, Irish and mainland European ports checking consignments, the suspension of air travel between the UK and the EU, pending the conclusion of a new air transport agreement, and other major disruptions.
Health, safety, veterinary and phytosanitary inspections, as well as the assessment of customs duties, would lead to long queues of lorries at ports on both sides of the channel. Neither side can build the necessary infrastructure and linked IT systems or recruit sufficient qualified staff in time to cope with dramatically increased requirements after a hard Brexit. Supply chains would be disrupted and many foreign-owned companies, which had not already relocated to remaining EU countries, would seek to do so rapidly.
The political and economic damage of going over the cliff edge would last for years and embitter the UK’s relations with the EU and third countries. Many would question the value of Britain’s WTO commitments in the absence of appropriate trading arrangements between Britain and the EU.
This then is a sketch of the cliff edge. Those who admire Britain for its pragmatism, fairness and common sense find it hard to believe that such a scenario might become reality. Surely, they say, Britain and the EU are involved in preliminary skirmishing of the type that precedes any negotiation. They are sure to come to their senses as the decisive deadlines approach. Nothing is less than certain.
A Tale of “Downside” Risks
The outcome may well diverge from either the optimistic or the pessimistic scenarios delineated above. However, the risks are mainly “downside” as the economists put it. British negotiators have not yet grasped the fundamentally asymmetric nature of negotiations between twenty-seven countries backed by European institutions on the one side and a single country seeking to leave the club on the other. It would be better for government, business and the public, if this reality were more widely recognized, leading to realistic negotiating targets. Indeed, Brexit is not really a negotiation at all in the usual sense. It is rather an effort by the leaving country to secure some exceptions from the club’s rules at the time of its departure. This is much akin to the efforts of a candidate (joining) country to achieve some, temporary, transitional exceptions to the EU’s rules.
The Brexit talks are essentially an exercise in damage limitation, mainly through transitional arrangements. When the divorce and transitional arrangements have been agreed, Britain and the EU can concentrate on negotiating a long-term partnership which will be in their mutual interest.
By now you have undoubtedly heard that in the Brexit Referendum held on June 23, 2016, the majority vote was in favor of United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Notwithstanding the outcome of the vote, it is presently unclear when, or even if, the UK government will give notification to the EU of its intention to leave the EU in accordance with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. If notice is given, there will be a two-year period (which may be extended) to complete negotiations of the terms of UK’s exit from the EU.
Rights in existing EU Trade Marks (EUTM) and Registered Community Designs (RCD) remain unaffected until the UK exits the EU. Once the UK’s departure from the EU has been finalized, it is likely that existing EUTMs and RCDs will no longer automatically provide coverage in the UK. Although impact of the Brexit in that regard is unclear at present, it is anticipated that UK legislation will be implemented to ensure that such rights continue to have effect in the UK, for example, by converting existing EUTM rights to UK national rights enjoying the same priority/filing dates.
In terms of filing new applications during this transitional period, an EUTM remains a cost efficient option for brand owners wishing to obtain protection across the EU. Until we have further information as to how EUTMs and RCDs will be addressed after the UK exits the EU, brand owners seeking protection in the UK may wish to consider filing both an EUTM and a UK application.
EU TRADEMARK REFORM
Recently, there have been several other noteworthy changes in the EU pertinent to trademarks that also deserve consideration by trademark holders. On March 23, 2016, European Union Trademark Regulation No. 2015/2424 came into force bringing substantial changes to Community Trade Mark registrations and procedures. Some of the most relevant changes are as follows:
The names have changed. The Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) has changed its name to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), and the Community Trade Mark (CTM) was changed to the European Union Trade Mark (EUTM).
There is a change in the fee structure for trademark applications and renewals. The “three classes for the price of one” arrangement has been replaced by a “one-fee-per-class” system. Under the new system, the official fees for three classes are higher, while registration renewal fees have been slightly reduced.
Under the old system, all CTM applications filed prior to June 20, 2012 that used the complete Class heading as the specification of the goods and/or services were held to include all of the goods and services in the particular class. Under the new system, all registrations that use Class headings will be interpreted according to their literal meaning, irrespective of their filing date. Therefore, registrations filed prior to June 20, 2012 may not adequately cover the trademark holder’s goods and services.
The new regulation allows for a transitional period of six months, from March 23, 2016 to September 23, 2016, for owners of EU registrations which cover the entire Class heading, to amend the specification of goods and services. Therefore, owners of EU registrations that cover the Class heading should check if the Class heading covers everything they want to protect. If not, they should seek to amend their registration before September 23, 2016.
GENUINE USE OF A MARK IN THE EU
Under European Union Trademark Law, an EUTM registration may be revoked if “within a period of five years, following registration, the proprietor has not put the mark to genuine use in the Community in connection with the goods or services in respect of which it is registered, or if such use has been suspended during an uninterrupted period of five years.”
An EUTM mark has been found to be in “genuine use” within the meaning of current authority if it is used for the purpose of maintaining or creating market share within the European Community for the goods or services covered by the registration. This usage standard would be assessed by considering the characteristics of the market concerned, the nature of the goods or services, the territorial extent and the scale of use, as well as the frequency and regularity of use.
It has long been generally understood that use of a EUTM mark in any one EU member country would satisfy this use requirement. However, this has been called into question by a recent UK decision, The Sofa Workshop Ltd v. Sofaworks Ltd  EWHC 1773 (IPEC), that found use of a mark in only the UK only was not sufficient to maintain the CTM registration. Instead, that court and other recent decisions have called into question whether use of a trademark in only one country of the EU is sufficient and have instead looked at other indicia of “use” such as percentage of market share over the entire EU.
These recent assessments of genuine use from courts located in the currently-constituted EU should be noted by brand owners and may provide additional rationale for brand owners seeking protection in the EU to consider filing for national rights (as opposed to EUTMs) where use of the mark may be limited.
© 2016 Neal, Gerber & Eisenberg LLP.
© 2016 Vedder Price
As the country recovers from the shock outcome of last Thursday’s Referendum, the question which Restructuring professionals must now consider is “what does Brexit mean for me?”. The truth is that nobody really knows. The Referendum decision is not legally binding on the UK Government and the process of the UK leaving the EU will only start once the UK has served formal notice on the EU pursuant to Article 50 of the Treaty on the European Union. This will start a two year negotiation period to effect Brexit. In the meantime, the UK remains a member of the EU and EU law continues to apply.
So, in some respects it is very much business as usual for now, but on the basis that David Cameron’s successor will give notice to leave the EU, we recommend that clients start considering the consequences of Brexit now. Preparation for those consequences may include looking at the following:
Contract Reviews – Many contracts refer to an array of EU laws, regulators and territories which should be reviewed to determine how Brexit may/will impact. Can the contract be varied to mitigate the impact of Brexit? What is the potential impact on the contract price being linked to Sterling, the Euro or the Dollar? Does the governing law clause need amending? Will Brexit result in a breach of contract? Whilst unlikely, can force majeure or material adverse effect clauses be relied upon? How can the contract be future-proofed?
Financing and security reviews – Brexit caused turmoil in the markets initially and led to a reduction in the UK’s credit score rating and a significant devaluing of sterling. Before the Referendum, warnings of a post Brexit recession were rife. Is your business/customer at risk of breaching its financial covenants as a consequence of Brexit? Do those facilities and security need to be reviewed and changes made to protect the position?
Vulnerability to Brexit – Brexit is going to impact some more than others. How much do you or your clients/customers trade with other EU countries? How will your supply chain be affected? Do you currently benefit from EU funding? Is the tax efficiency of your business based on EU law? Does your business benefit from EU emission allowances? Will you need a licence or other authorisation to trade in the EU?
Public Policy – The UK will have to review where domestic legislation may need to be amended to take account of Brexit. It will be important to businesses to understand what changes are likely to be coming down the line. Many of the legal changes will be driven by policy decisions made in London and/or Brussels in particular. Keeping on top of these Policy decisions may allow businesses to position themselves to benefit from or at least mitigate the effects of legislative change. Do you need to engage with public policy professionals to assist in lobbying for changes which will have a positive impact on your business?
International Trade Arrangements – To what extent does your business involve the supply of goods between the UK and other EU member states? How will your business be impacted by the potential imposition of tariffs and other trade barriers restricting the free movement of goods post-Brexit?
Immigration and employment– What nationality are your employees? How will your ability to recruit/second employees be affected and will any parts of your business have to be downsized?
Communication – To what extent do you need to make any public statements or disclosures in relation to the impact of Brexit on your business. What is your strategy for communicating the impact of Brexit with your staff?
Other issues will arise as the full impact of Brexit unravels over the coming weeks and months.
© Copyright 2016 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP
© Copyright 2016 Squire Patton Boggs (US) LLP