Positive Developments – EUTM

Trademark owners should take note of two new types of trademark protection available in the European Community as of October 1, 2017.

1. Certification Marks – although it has always been possible to register certification marks in a few individual EU member states, it was previously not possible to register a certification mark, for certification services, with the EUIPO.  This will change as of October 1, 2017 when it will now it will be possible to register certification with the EUIPO, covering all EU member states.  European Union certification marks are defined as marks that are “capable of distinguishing goods or services which are certified by the proprietor of the mark in respect of material, mode of manufacture of goods or performance of services, quality, accuracy or other characteristics, with the exception of geographical origin, from goods and services which are not so certified.”

2. Marks no Longer Need Graphic Representation – it will now be possible to file for sound, hologram, motion, and multimedia marks; marks can now be represented in any form using generally available technologies.  Unfortunately, it is still not possible to file for tactile, smell, and taste marks in the EU.

This post was written by Monica Riva Talley of Sterne Kessler © 2017
For more legal analysis go to The National Law Review

Brexit – Squaring Circle and involving European Court of Justice

Clash of Philosophies

There is a potentially irreconcilable clash of constitutional philosophies between the UK and the EU which results in certain “no go” areas on the EU side for the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

Perspective of the EU27

EU UK FlagsThe EU27’s approach is driven by the perception that the European Union is not merely representative of a negotiable bundle of international trade treaties but is a supranational entity based on and subject to a constitution created by the Treaty on European Union (TEU) and the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU). From the perspective of the EU and the EU27 , the constitution of the EU goes well beyond international treaties.  The Treaties establish a Union which is based on principles similar to those in Federal States.

Any of the member states of the EU (including the UK) accordingly is, from the perspective of the EU, not only a counterparty to an international treaty but an integral part of an autonomous Union. The driving principle of the European Union – which was correctly identified and repeated by Leave campaigners – is the supremacy of the EU’s legal order over the legal order of its member states, including the supremacy of the EU’s legal order over the constitutions of the member states.

One of the most important principles of the EU is laid down in Article 3 (2) TEU.  This provides that the EU is an area within which its citizens are free and can freely move. This is a general principle which is not restricted to trade but applies in all areas of life. In addition to such general principle Article 3 (3) TEU states that, inter alia, one of the consequences of this area of freedom and free movement is the internal market.

That is the context of the European Union placing the future rights of EU citizens in the UK at the forefront of any of the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.

Since the EU is bound to such constitutional order, any agreement with the UK pursuant to Article 50 TEU needs, from the perspective of the EU, to comply with such constitutional principles. “Constitutionality” is a major issue for the continental European member states since governments and politicians on the continent are used to be bound by constitutions which cannot be overridden by domestic governments or parliaments by simple act of parliament or government. Constitutions can only be amended or overridden if a qualified majority in Parliament and, in some member states, a referendum so approves. In some member states, such as Germany, there are even some constitutional principles which cannotbe changed by Parliament at all.

Perspective of the UK

The UK approach is driven by its perspective that the EU is simply the creation of a bundle of international treaties which establish a common market in which various different principles of free trade and free movement apply, and the contents of which can be freely negotiated between the various parties to such international treaties. Accordingly the UK takes the point of view that the agreements to be entered into pursuant to Article 50 TEU upon Brexit can be freely negotiated and that such negotiations are not subject to or restricted by overriding constitutional principles which are binding on the EU during such exit negotiations.

How to reconcile the differing points of view and how to involve the European Court of Justice

The two above described perspectives of the UK and the EU would appear to be legally irreconcilable, but there is a potential avenue out of such dead-lock by making use of:

(a) the fact that Article 50 (3) TEU does not conclusively state that the UK ceases to be a member state of the EU two years after the Article 50 Notice has been given, but in principle refers to the date on which the relevant withdrawal agreement becomes effective, which effective date can either fall on a date occurring after the two years or on a date occurring prior to the two years.

Accordingly, a simple withdrawal agreement could provide that Brexit becomes effective only once certain specified additional agreements have been finalized and entered into.

(b) the Commission, the European Parliament, the European Council and/or any member state (including the UK) being entitled to request from the European Court of Justice (ECJ) pursuant to Article 218 (11) TFEU legal opinions on any draft agreement – like the agreements between the UK and the EU on their future relationships – to be entered into with a third country (which the UK would be once the withdrawal agreement becomes effective) in order to avoid and/or mitigate concerns relating to the constitutionality of the future relationship agreement with the UK.

It is likely that the EU27 will at some stage call upon the European Court of Justice to opine on the constitutionality of the future relationship agreement(s) with the UK because of the fundamental nature of the agreement(s).

Samples of constitutionally important legal opinions rendered by the European Court of Justice in relation to Agreements which the EU had entered into in the past under Article 218 (11) TFEU (and its predecessors) include, for example:

– ECJ opinions 1/91 and 1/92 on the European Economic Area Agreement and the system of judicial review thereunder,

– ECJ opinion 1/94 relating to the EU agreeing to accede to WTO, GATS and TRIPs

– ECJ opinion 2/13 relating to the accession of the EU to the European Convention on Human Rights

– ECJ opinion 2/15 relating to the Free Trade Agreement with Singapore.

In relation to the Free Trade Agreement with Singapore the ECJ held on 16 May 2017 that such Free Trade Agreement is, because of its far reaching comprehensive content, a so-called “mixed-agreement” and therefore requires the consent of all 28 Member States of the European Union. Depending on the contents of the future relationship agreement between the UK and the EU, such agreement will also need to be ratified by the Parliaments of the EU27 Member States.

Agreements to be negotiated between the UK and the EU

The minimum number of agreements to be negotiated in the context of the UK leaving the EU pursuant to Article 50 is two:

(i) the withdrawal agreement on the details of the withdrawal “taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union” and

(ii) an agreement on the details of the future relationship between the EU and the UK.

Even though the minimum number of agreements to be entered into is two, it is likely that there will be more than two agreements since there are areas which need to be dealt with instantaneously (like aviation between the UK and EU27 and a potential accession of the UK to the ECAA Agreement in order to enable the flow of air traffic between the UK and the EU to continue as normal) irrespective of whether other areas may be dealt with at a later stage.

Whereas the withdrawal agreement can be adopted by the EU pursuant to a qualified majority decision pursuant to Article 50 TEU, any agreement on the details of the future relationship will require the “normal” majority contemplated in the TEU and TFEU for the relevant matters concerned, because Article 50 does not apply to such agreements on the details of the future relationship.

From the EU27 perspective, the principal items of the withdrawal agreement are those set out in the Brexit Negotiation Guidelines adopted by the European Council on 29 April 2017, the European Parliament on 5 April 2017 and the Non-Paper of the European Commission of 20 April 2017 and the Commission Recommendation for a Council Decision of 3 May 2017.

Withdrawal Agreement and the date at which it comes into force

The EU and the UK could agree that the withdrawal agreement is ratified in accordance with Article 50 TEU before the lapse of the two-year period but provides that it comes into force only after the agreement on principles for the future relationship has been (i) agreed on working level; (ii) submitted to and reviewed by the European Court of Justice pursuant to Article 218 (11) TFEU, and (iii) been ratified by the UK and the EU – or after the ratification process has been declared by the UK to be defunct.

That would mean that the UK would not cease to be a member state of the EU until there is an agreement on the principles for the future relationship without having to achieve this within the tight two years period.

The UK would also continue to enjoy all rights as a member state under existing international trade and other agreements entered into by the EU with countries around the world, like free trade agreements, air transportation agreements etc. until the ECJ has determined that the principles agreed between the UK and the EU in the agreement on principles for the future relationship are compliant with TEU and TFEU. Once this has been determined, the details of the future relationship could be negotiated in detail between the UK and the EU.

If the UK ceased to be a Member State on 30 March 2019 and “only” some transitory period or implementation period thereafter was agreed on during which certain specified EU rules continue to apply, this would not prevent the UK from losing its rights under existing International Agreements which had been entered into by the EU.

There is clarity in the approach of the EU27. The approach that the UK will take should become clearer after the General Election on 8 June, and later in the year as the UK government begins to identify its Brexit strategy in more detail, and identifies the trade offs it is prepared to make.  The historical and current political climate, as well as the sheer complexity of Brexit, is such that the UK cannot necessarily be expected the trade offs which history will regard as the “right” ones.

By Jens Rinze and Jeremy Cape of Squire Patton Boggs.

European Union Adopts Brexit Negotiation Guidelines

Brexit Bull HornOn April 29, a Special European Council, meeting as 27 member states (as opposed to the full 28 member states, as would usually be present), adopted the Article 50 guidelines (Guidelines) to formally define the EU’s position in Brexit negotiations with the United Kingdom. This follows the resolution of the European Parliament on key principles and conditions for the negotiations, adopted on April 5 (for further information, see the April 7 issue of Corporate & Financial Weekly Digest).

The Guidelines are set out under six headings covering:

  • core principles;
  • a phased approach to the negotiations;
  • agreement on arrangements for an orderly withdrawal;
  • preliminary and preparatory discussions on a framework for the EU-UK future relationship;
  • the principle of sincere cooperation; and
  • the procedural arrangements for negotiations under Article 50.

On May 22, the EU General Affairs Council is expected to authorize the opening of the negotiations, nominate the European Commission as the EU negotiator and adopt negotiating directives.

The Guidelines are available here.

Agreement Reached on New EU-U.S. Safe Harbor: the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield

On February 2nd, 2016, the European Commission and U.S. Government reached political agreement on the new framework for transatlantic data flows.  The new framework – the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield – succeeds the EU-U.S. Safe Harbor framework (for more on the Court of Justice of the European Union decision in the Schrems case declaring the Safe Harbor invalid, see our earlier post here).  The EU’s College of Commissioners has also mandated Vice-President Ansip and Commissioner Jourová to prepare the necessary steps to put in place the new arrangement.

The EU-U.S. Privacy Shield

According to the Commission press release, there will be several new elements to the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield, as compared with the invalidated EU-U.S. Safe Harbor framework.  For instance, in addition to subjecting participating U.S. companies to certain as-yet unspecified safeguards, the Privacy Shield will include:

  • An annual joint review of the program performed by the European Commission and U.S. Department of Commerce – to which European data protection authorities will be invited – to ensure its proper functioning.  This will include a review of access by U.S. intelligence agencies to EU-originating data.

  • Enhanced rights of redress for European data subjects, including (i) subjecting U.S. organizations to firmer deadlines when responding to complaints, (ii) allowing EU citizens and EU data protection authorities to refer complaints to the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission, (iii) establishing, as a last resort, a new binding alternative dispute resolution mechanism to resolve complaints that will be voluntary and free to data subjects, capable of issuing binding injunctive orders, and subject to judicial review consistent with the U.S. Federal Arbitration Act, and (iv) creating a new “Ombudsperson” within the U.S. State Department to handle complaints – channeled through EU Member State representatives – that relate to U.S. intelligence agencies’ access to data.  Disputes relating to human resources/employee data will remain subject to an alternative process that entails somewhat closer involvement of EU data protection authorities, similar to the current Safe Harbor.

Moreover, it is reported that the U.S. Director of National Intelligence will confirm by official letter to the EU that U.S. intelligence agencies do not engage in “indiscriminate mass surveillance” of data transferred under the new arrangement.

The Privacy Shield is expected to retain or enhance many of the elements contained in the original Safe Harbor framework, including substantive commitments made by U.S. companies on such matters as furnishing appropriate notices to EU citizens, maintaining the security of transferred data, and tightened restrictions on onward transfers.  The precise nature of these obligations is not yet known, but will become clearer in the weeks ahead.

Next steps

The EU College of Commissioner’s has mandated Vice-President Ansip and Commissioner Jourová to, over the coming weeks, prepare a draft Decision declaring the U.S. to ensure an adequate level of protection.  The adoption of such a Decision by the Commission must follow a “comitology” procedure which will involve:

  • a proposal from the Commission;

  • an opinion by EU Member States’ data protection authorities and the European Data Protection Supervisor (“EDPS”), in the framework of the Article 29 Working Party;

  • an approval from the “Article 31 Committee”, composed of representatives of Member States, under the comitology “examination procedure”;

  • the formal adoption of the Decision by the College of Commissioners;

  • at any time, the European Parliament and the Council may request the Commission to maintain, amend or withdraw the adequacy decision on the grounds that its act exceeds the implementing powers provided for in the Directive.

The effect of such a Commission Adequacy Decision is that personal data can flow from the 28 EU countries and three EEA member countries (Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland) to the U.S. without any further safeguards being necessary.

Commissioner Jourová hopes for the new arrangement to be in force in approximately 3 months’ time.  The U.S. Government, in the meantime, will make the necessary preparations to put in place the new framework, monitoring mechanisms, and new Ombudsperson.

Tomorrow (February 3rd, 2016), Commissioner Jourová will attend the plenary meeting of the Article 29 Working Party to discuss the role of the EU data protection authorities under the EU-U.S. Privacy Shield.  The U.S. Department of Commerce is, in parallel, planning further briefings about the text.

New Draft EMA-Guideline On Clinical Development Of Fixed Combination Medicines

The European Medicines Agency (EMA) has recently published for public consultation its draft guideline on clinical development of fixed combination medicinal products (Draft Guideline), which is intended to replace CHMP/EWP/240/95 Rev. 1 (Existing Guideline).  The Draft Guideline applies to fixed combination medicinal products containing two or more active substances within a single pharmaceutical form.  The active substances may be known active substances or substances that have yet to be authorised in the EU.

An EMA concept paper on the Existing Guideline suggested that it be revised in order to suppress regulatory aspects and restrict it to the scientific requirements for clinical development of fixed combination products.  The Draft Guideline therefore contains a number of changes from the Existing Guideline, including:

  • It no longer describes the applicable legal basis for approving marketing authorisation applications for fixed combination products. The Existing Guideline places a strong link between Article 10b of Directive 2001/83/EC and the development of fixed combination products.  However, the Draft Guideline provides that “The legal basis for applications concerning fixed combination medicinal products may vary depending on the particularities of the active substances in combination and the development undertaken.  The choice of legal basis lies with the applicant…”  The Draft Guideline, as is the case with the Existing Guideline, does not discuss data exclusivity in respect of fixed combination products.  The European Commission’s guidance contained in its Notice to Applicants, Volume 2 A continues to apply in this regard.  It is worth noting that Teva has recently withdrawn its application and has discontinued proceedings in litigation before the General Court of the European Union (Case T-547/12) concerning regulatory data exclusivity for fixed combination products.

  • The Draft Guideline no longer addresses requirements for combination packs (i.e., where active substances are included in separate pharmaceutical forms marketed in the same package). The Existing Guideline states that scientific principles applicable to fixed combination products will also be applied in the assessment of combination pack medicinal products.  However, the EMA has subsequently recognised that from a regulatory point of view combination packs are not the same as fixed-dose combinations.  As such, reference to combination packs has been removed from the Draft Guideline.

  • The Draft Guideline contains more detail on the scientific aspects relevant for approval of fixed combination products. In summary, it provides that the basic requirements for a marketing authorisation application for a fixed combination product are: (1) justification of the pharmacological and medical rationale for the combination, (2) establishment of the evidence base for the: (a) relevant contribution of all active components to the desired therapeutic effect; and (b) positive risk-benefit for the combination, and (3) verification that the evidence base presented is relevant to the product applied for.

The deadline for submitting comments on the Draft Guideline is 15 November 2015.  Comments should be sent to FDCguideline@ema.europa.eu, and should be submitted using this template.

© 2015 Covington & Burling LLP

European Union’s New Regulation to Attach Bank Accounts Pre and Post Judgment

HMB Chartered B

Applicable as of January 18, 2017, a recently adopted European regulation facilitates cross-border debt recovery by enabling creditors to obtain a “European Account Preservation Order” (the “EAPO”) given by one judge in a member state and attach a debtor’s bank accounts in another EU member state without further court proceeding. The EAPO will enable creditors to obtain an order (i) before the creditor initiates proceedings on the merits against the debtor, (ii) at any stage during the proceedings until a judgment or settlement is entered, and (iii) after a judgment or court settlement that requires the debtor to pay a claim. Before a judgment is entered, the national courts that have jurisdiction to rule on the merits will also have jurisdiction to issue an EAPO. If the creditor has already obtained a judgment, then jurisdiction lies with the courts of the member state where the judgment was obtained.

An EAPO is an alternative remedy. The order will only be available in matters that have cross-border implications and may only serve preservation purposes. This means the debtor’s bank account is provisionally frozen and the amount seized is transferred to a dedicated account kept by the competent enforcement authority. To get the pre-judgment order, the creditor must show that he will probably obtain a favorable judgment against the debtor in the proceedings on the merits. No notice is given in seeking the order. The debtor may also not be informed of the order before it is enforced. An EAPO will not apply where claims are against a debtor in bankruptcy and where funds are exempt from attachment under the laws of the member state of enforcement.

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EU Sanctions And The International Oil And Gas Industry

Andrews Kurth

The international oil and gas industry is continuously tasked with adapting to an ever evolving sanction-regulated environment. The level of sanction activity and implementation in recent years has been unprecedented, partly as a result of the political events which gave rise to the Arab Spring and the opposition to Iran’s nuclear programme. The recent crisis in the Ukraine, and associated sanctions against Russia, have sparked further debate around the need for effective, targeted punitive measures and the consequences they may have for Europe.

This article considers the EU’s sanction regime, explores the effect it has on international oil and gas companies and addresses the short-comings of the EU’s decentralised system.

What are sanctions?

Sanctions are political policy instruments used to encourage jurisdictions acting in contravention of international law to adopt standards supported by the wider global community. They impose measures designed to cause damage to the targeted government, non-state entity or individual (“Target”) in order to force it to undertake, or prevent it from undertaking, certain behaviour. They may inhibit the Target from accessing foreign markets for trade or deny it from pursuing financial and other forms of commerce. The professed ultimate objective of a sanction is to preserve or restore global peace and security.

What is the source of EU sanctions?

The UN Security Council imposes sanctions through Security Council resolutions which are binding on the EU. The EU implements all sanctions imposed by the UN Security Council through legislation enacted by the European Council. The process typically results in a European Council regulation which has direct effect in EU member states’ separate legal systems, creating rights and obligations for those subject to them, and overrides national law. Additionally, the EU may decide to impose self-directed sanctions or restrictive measures which go further than a UN Security Council resolution in circumstances in which the EU deems such action to be necessary.

Why do EU sanctions affect international oil and gas companies?

Over the past two decades, the EU has engaged in an active use of restrictive measures in the form of economic and financial sanctions, embargoes and restrictions on admission to a country. Economic and financial sanctions typically take the form of asset-freeze measures which involve the use of funds and economic resources by Targets or persons acting for and on behalf of Targets, and the provision of funds and economic resources to designated Targets. Embargoes may prohibit trade in certain goods, and activities relating to such trade, with Targets (including the flow of arms and military equipment). Visa or travel bans can be imposed preventing certain persons from entering the EU or transit through the territory of EU member states. These sanction measures are part of the EU’s strategy to support the specific objectives of the Common Foreign and Security Policy.

At the time of writing, the EU has announced asset freezes and travel bans against around twenty individuals in Russia and the Ukraine. Companies conducting their business in the oil and gas sector should be particularly vigilant to ensure they act in compliance with EU sanctions, as Ukrainian and Russian entities and individuals who operate in this industry may increasingly become sanction targets.

US sanctions are questionable under international law because they apply extra-territorially to third state parties involved in business activities with the Target. Unlike the US, the EU has refrained from adopting legislation with extra-territorial effect. However, the EU’s recent sanctions against Iran displayed a greater resemblance to those levied by the US than had previously been the case. For example, sanctions were imposed prohibiting the provision of key resources to various parts of the Iranian oil and gas industry, as well as the provision of financial services to that sector. As a result of EU financial sanctions most, if not all, banks and other financial institutions have declined from conducting any business relations with the Iranian regime.

It is clear that EU sanctions are wide reaching and their scope has a significant impact on business activities. They will apply to international oil and gas companies in the following situations:

  • within EU territory, including its airspace;
  • on board of aircrafts or vessels under the jurisdiction of an EU member state;
  • to EU nationals, whether or not they are in the EU;
  • to companies and organisations incorporated under the law of a member state, whether or not they are in the EU (this captures branches of EU companies in non-EU countries); and
  • to any business done in whole or in part within the EU.

The corporate behaviour, performance and conduct of international companies are powerful channels through which the objectives of sanctions against Targets are achieved. Since an international oil and gas company has little option but to observe EU sanctions to the extent such company falls within the EU’s jurisdiction, these restrictive measures are likely to play a big part in a company’s commercial decision making processes.

Why are EU sanctions difficult to manage?

A principal reason why EU sanctions are difficult for international oil and gas companies based in various EU member states to manage largely stems from the fact that the European Union lacks a centralised licensing body. Instead, the responsibility for implementing and enforcing EU sanctions is delegated to the relevant competent authorities of the EU member states. The potential for variance and discrepancy is rife in a system where there are twenty-eight EU member states, each with their individual national resource constraints and self-centred policy objectives.

Typically, the competent authorities of EU member states are responsible for:

  • granting exemptions and licences;
  • establishing penalties for sanction violations;
  • coordinating with financial institutions; and
  • reporting upon the implementation of sanctions to the European Commission.

There have been calls for a central EU licensing body which would produce a single licensing and exemption policy for EU member states. Although EU guidelines on sanctions and best practices for the effective implementation of restrictive measures go some way to plug the gap, arguably a more comprehensive regime for implementing sanctions is required to provide a better level of certainty to international businesses operating in the realms of the EU.

Managing the risks

International oil and gas companies have always had to function in politically active climates. As sanctions initiated by multilateral organisations such as the UN and EU become more fashionable, so too does the exposure to political risk that these companies will face. Given the considerable levels of investment that can only be recouped over extended periods of time, and in accordance with pre-determined contractual apportionments, international oil and gas companies need to be able to recognise, assess and manage these political risks effectively.

Oil and gas companies can relieve the risks imposed on them by sanctions through political lobbying, taking pre-emptive measures and by reacting quickly to sanctions once they are implemented. Commercial negotiations will need to focus on the allocation of risk as a result of one party’s failure to perform or withdrawal from the contract on the grounds of applicable sanctions.

International oil and gas companies need to be proactive and consider both the legal solutions and pre-cure safeguards. Time and effort should be spent focusing on drafting and negotiating the relevant contractual documentation, following a careful risk assessment, instead of deferring to dispute resolution provisions. For instance, careful construction of force majeure provisions can allocate each party’s obligations in the circumstance where an event outside of a party’s control causes contractual performance to become impossible. Thus, whilst conventional force majeure clauses relating to physical events afford relief to an affected party from its liabilities under the contract, oil and gas companies should consider expanding such contractual provisions to cover sanctions and other restrictive measures imposed on them by the UN and EU.

To avoid falling foul of existing EU sanctions, oil and gas companies should also consider putting in place comprehensive compliance procedures and systems to implement applicable sanction regimes. Penalties for breach of sanctions can be severe; a person guilty of a sanction-related offence may be liable on conviction to imprisonment and/or a fine. Falling foul of sanctions also means that a transaction can immediately become unlawful.

Conclusion

In view of the economic significance of the EU, the application of economic financial sanctions can be a powerful tool. But like a chain is no stronger than its weakest link, the effectiveness and success of the EU’s sanction regime depends on all EU member states applying, implementing and enforcing EU sanctions in a consistent manner.

The current EU sanction regime warrants a fully integrated approach which would undoubtedly benefit its policy objectives and move some way to reducing the unduly high economic cost that international oil and gas companies face when operating their businesses in the EU.

In voicing the sentiments of Henry Kissinger: “No foreign policy – no matter how ingenious – has any chance of success if it is born in the minds of a few and carried in the hearts of none”, perhaps now, in the dawn of the recent events which have taken place in the EU’s backyard in the Ukraine and Russia, the EU should further global security measures by tightening its ranks and implementing a more centralised, and better monitored, sanction regime.

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