In Trademark Registration Goes Global, I discussed two routes US brand owners can take to secure international trademark registration. The first is the Madrid Protocol, which allows any U.S. registered trademark owner to file for protection in any other Madrid member country directly from the U.S. Trademark Office. Similarly, owners of trademarks in any other member country can also use the Madrid Protocol to file into the U.S. or any other member country from their home country.
The Madrid Protocol is designed to reduce fees and complexities for protecting brands in the global marketplace. At first blush, it seems smart to use Madrid Protocol as a home-based for filing foreign registrations. However, my experience has shown that’s not always true.
While Madrid Protocol can avoid the cost of an international trademark attorney initially, government filing fees in each country remain the same. The cost savings may not be worth it. Indeed, there are several disadvantages inherent in the Madrid Protocol. Indeed, these pitfalls can result in insufficient protection, failed registration attempts, and missed deadlines.
Keep the end goal in mind, successful registration that provides strong protection. Wasted filing fees, marginal protection, and loss of foreign filings is not a successful outcome.
Fact Number 1:
A Madrid Protocol Trademark must be based upon an existing Member Country Registration
Successful foreign registration via Madrid Protocol stands or falls based upon the issuance of a U.S. trademark registration (or a registration in any other member country). In the case of one client, a non-expert patent attorney used the Madrid Protocol to file in multiple foreign countries.
He did so before the U.S. registration was finally approved. The attorney had based the Madrid Protocol upon the pending U.S. application. A third party successfully challenged the US application. As a result, the client (who had by this time had sought our help), also lost all pending foreign applications. Had the client filed foreign applications directly through foreign counsel this would not have happened. Loss of the US application would not have affected the outcome of pending foreign applications.
For this reason alone, I am not a fan of using the Madrid Protocol. This is particularly true where the client’s U.S. trademark application has not yet received final approval, or involves a weak mark that has a greater risk of being challenged. I use the Madrid Protocol sparingly. Even then, I always rely upon our experienced team of foreign associates in countries around the globe to enter an appearance on the file in order insure prompt receipt of local office actions.
Fact Number 2:
A Madrid Protocol Trademark protects only the identical goods and services in the U.S. registration
U.S. Trademark Registrations cover only goods and services being sold. U.S. trademark registrations cover only goods or services for which the trademark is in actual use. This means the rights of the U.S. trademark owner are only as broad as the goods and services that are being sold in the U.S. This is exactly the opposite of the rest of the world, where use is not required to register a trademark. Because U.S. trademark registrations can issue only for items being sold, U.S. owners are at a decided disadvantage over our foreign counterparts.
Filing direct means broader protection and no need to proof use. For this reason, country direct Filings often provide a great scope of protection. Here’s an example. A European trademark registration (EUTM), is a fabulous way for a U.S. brand owner to obtain a registration in 27 countries of the European Union for the price of one! Suppose the U.S. brand owner is selling only tee-shirts in the U.S. The US registration can cover only what’s being sold, namely tee-shirts.
If the U.S. trademark owner files for an EUTM via Madrid Protocol, the registration in the EU can also cover only tee-shirts. Contrast the very different result if file directly for the EUTM through foreign associates. Since no use is required, the same client can file for an EUTM application through our foreign associate and include a claim to register all items of clothing in the same category class without proof of use, for the same government filing fee. Moreover, by paying modest additional filing fees, the direct EUTM filing can designate other related services in different classifications. For example, we could file for handbags and or belts, and perhaps even an online store to protect a website where the tee-shirts are being sold. The result is much broader and stronger protection for the mark in 26 countries of the world than taking the Madrid Protocol route to the EUTM. The same is true in many other countries around the globe.
Fact Number 3:
Response deadlines for a Madrid Protocol Office Action can be short and easily missed
Most trademark applications receive some sort of initial rejection. For example, in the U.S. the initial rejection rate hovers consistently at 67-70%. In the U.S., we are granted six months within which to respond to any Office Actions. This is not true in some foreign territories, where for example the response times are much shorter. China for example allows only 30 days within which to respond to Office Actions. I’ve had instances where the deadline passed before we received notice that an Office Action had issued.
Office Actions issued by individual countries are routed through WIPO, which then notifies the U.S. trademark owner or its attorney of record. If there is no foreign attorney designated as a representative on the filing, no one in the local country will receive notice in a more timely manner. As a result, it may be impossible to respond to local refusals and deadlines if the receipt of Office Actions is delayed in transmittal from WIPO.
When to Use the Madrid Protocol
Madrid Protocol has its advantages when there is a U.S. trademark registration in place for a mark that is strong and unlikely to face third-party challenges. Even then, one should decide whether the breadth of the U.S. registration will provide sufficient pre-emptive coverage in foreign countries.
Remember competitors and other users of the same mark in foreign countries are able and likely to obtain a registration covering a broader range of goods or services. Relying solely upon a narrow U.S. registration as the sole basis for all global trademark protection is often not advisable.
I typically develop a unique filing strategy for each client, most often using a combination of Madrid Protocol together with direct filings in certain countries where Madrid Protocol is not an option or great protection seems like a smart move.
Learn more about International Trademark Registration here. Schedule a time to meet with us to help you make a plan to file for an International Trademark Registration.