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2. Trademarks

2.1. What is a trademark?

A trademark is an exclusive right in a distinctive sign the main function of which is to distinguish the goods and services of one undertaking from those of its competitors. It also plays an important role in advertising and goodwill consolidation.

2.2. What factors need to be borne in mind to register a trademark in Spain?

  1. That it is free to be used.
  2. That it is free to be registered.
  3. That it has no negative connotations, i.e. it is commercially suitable.

Before marketing goods or services, it is advisable to verify that no identical or similar mark has been registered previously for identical or similar goods or services, since this could prevent the use of the sign in the relevant territory.

After confirming that no prior third-party rights are being infringed, one of the various procedures for obtaining registration should be chosen in order to secure exclusive rights and prevent the mark from being used by other companies. Obtaining registration also involves assessing that the mark is not generic, deceptive, descriptive or contrary to public policy or accepted principles of morality.

2.3. What are the ways of registering a mark in Spain?

2.4. How do you obtain a Spanish trademark?

By filing an application at the Spanish Patents and Trademarks Office (SPTO).

The application process takes approximately between 6 and 15 months.

Spanish trademarks may consist of words, names or surnames, signatures, numbers and number combinations, slogans, drawings, sounds, colors and three-dimensional shapes, including packaging.

2.5. What checks does the SPTO conduct when it receives the application?

The SPTO only examines ex officio whether the trademark falls within absolute grounds for refusal (mainly, that the mark is not generic, misleading, descriptive or contrary to public policy), but does not carry out an examination of relative grounds for refusal, that is, the existence of identical or similar earlier marks registered for identical or similar goods, likely to be confused with the new trademark. Relative grounds for refusal are only examined where the owners of prior marks file an opposition against the trademark application.

In short, the SPTO will not refuse trademarks ex officio based on relative grounds, and instead performs a computer search to notify the holders of prior identical or similar signs, for informative purposes only, of the application, in case they are interested in filing an opposition.

2.6. How long does Spanish trademark registration last?

Trademark registration is valid for 10 years and can be renewed indefinitely for further ten-year periods. However the registration may lapse or be revoked if the trademark is not renewed, if it is not effectively used during an uninterrupted 5-year period, or if it becomes generic or deceptive in connection with the goods and/or services it covers.

2.7. What are the main amendments of the Spanish Trademark Law?

The Royal Decree-Law implementing the European Trademarks Directive 2015/2436 which amends the Spanish Trademark Law came into force on January 14, 2019.

Some of the most relevant amendments are the following:

  • SPTO competence in invalidity and revocation-related proceedings. However, this provision will not be applicable until January 14, 2023.
  • Elimination of the graphic representation requirement from the concept of trademark, which entails opening the Register to “non-conventional” signs, such as smell marks.
  • Possibility to request proof of use of the earlier trademark in opposition, invalidity or revocation proceedings vis-à-vis the SPTO.
  • Registration of a trademark no longer confers immunity. In other words, the fact that a trademark has proceeded to registration does not necessarily entail that its use may not infringe the IP rights of a third party.
  • Licensee standing to bring infringement proceedings. Licensees may only bring action for trademark infringement with the consent of the licensed trademark’s proprietor. However, an exclusive licensee may bring action if the trademark proprietor fails to do so, after having been so requested.

2.8. What is an international trademark?

An international trademark is linked to the Madrid system for the international registration of trademarks “Madrid System”, comprising the Madrid Agreement of 1891 and the Madrid Protocol of 1989, and administered by the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO), with headquarters in Geneva.

Although known as “international trademarks”, this is not strictly speaking the case since the Madrid system unifies administrative procedures at a single Office, enabling various national registrations to be obtained, but does not offer unitary worldwide protection.

2.9. How to obtain an international trademark?

The applicant must designate the countries where it wishes to obtain protection from among those countries that have ratified either the Agreement or the Protocol. WIPO subsequently proceeds to notify the national Offices of the designated countries and if no oppositions are filed pursuant to the national laws of each of the countries concerned within one year (pursuant to the Agreement) or 18 months (pursuant to the Protocol), the international trademark will be registered.

Since April 1, 2004 international trademark applications filed under the Madrid system for the international registration of marks may be processed in Spanish.

The application process usually takes between 12 and 20 months.

2.10. Who can file an international trademark?

International trademarks can only be filed by natural or legal persons who have ties to a State that is party to one or both of the treaties (due to nationality, domicile, or real and effective establishment) and may, on the basis of an application filed at the Trademark Office of such State, obtain an international registration effective in all or some of the countries of the Madrid Union.

2.11. What is an EU trademark2?

A EU trademark confers its proprietor the right to prevent unauthorized use of the trademark by third parties throughout the entire European Union, as well as the use of identical or similar signs that could generate a likelihood of confusion among consumers.

Therefore, an undertaking that seeks to market its products or provide its services in Europe, does not have to file an application in each EU Member State, but rather is able to obtain one sole EU registration that automatically gives it exclusive rights in all of them.

Another important advantage of the EU trademark is that no evidence of use is required to obtain registration, and use of a mark in a relevant part of the EU is sufficient to maintain its validity.

The EU trademark does not replace trademark rights in each Member State. The national, international and EU trademark systems coexist and, in some cases, complement each other.

EU trademark infringement actions are brought before EU trademark courts, which are national courts designated by each of the Member States. In Spain, the function of EU trademark court corresponds exclusively to the Commercial Courts of Alicante and, at the appeal stage, to the Eighth Section of the Court of Appeals of Alicante.

2.12. Who can file an EU trademark?

Any physical or legal person, regardless of its domicile or nationality.

2.13. How to obtain an EU trademark?

The EU trademark is administered by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), which is based in Alicante, Spain. The application may be submitted in any of the official languages of the European Union, although the applicant is required to designate a second language out of the EUIPO’s five official languages, (German, Spanish, English, Italian and French) which may be used as the language of opposition, revocation or invalidity proceedings.

The application process takes approximately 5 months if there are no oppositions or ex officio objections.

2.14. What checks does the EUIPO conduct when it receives the application?

The EUIPO only examines marks on absolute grounds for refusal (i.e. it mainly verifies that the mark is not descriptive, generic or deceptive in any of the European Union countries).

However, it does not examine applications ex-officio on relative grounds for refusal, i.e. it will not refuse registration on account of the existence of any earlier trademark registrations in the European Union), but rather it is up to the owners of these registrations to file an opposition against such marks at the EUIPO.

2.15. EU… and international trademark?

The European Union’s accession to the Madrid Protocol connects the registration procedure of an EU trademark application to the International trademark registration system. Thus, any physical or legal person may file an application at the EUIPO not just to protect his mark as an EU trademark but also as an international trademark in the Member States of the Madrid Protocol.

2.16. How long does an EU trademark last?

10 years. This period can be renewed for further 10-year periods subject to payment of the appropriate fees.

2.17. What changes has the EU trademark reform brought?

As from October 1, 2017, the date on which Regulation No. 2015/2424 came into force, the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) changed its name to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), and the Community trademark became the European Union trademark.

Some of the most important changes introduced by the Regulation are as follows:

  • An EU trademark application may only be filed at the EUIPO, and not at the industrial property offices of the Member States.
  • The requirement of graphic representability of the mark is eliminated.
  • A specific fee for each class designated is established.
  • Uniform criteria will be adopted for the classification of the goods and services designated by the trademark.
  • The holders of registered European Union trademarks may prevent the entry into the EU of infringing goods, even where such goods are in transit and not intended to be marketed in the Union. However, the owner of the EU trademark must prove that he has the right to prohibit the placing on the market of such goods in the country of final destination of the goods.

2.18. Brexit

The transitional period for the application of European Union law in the United Kingdom (UK) following its withdrawal from the European Union came to an end on 31 December 2020.

European Union Trademarks that were registered as of 1 January 2021 have been "cloned" by the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) into comparable UK trademarks, without any fee being payable on the owners’ behalf.

If the European Union Trademark was a “well-known trademark” under European Union law before the end of the transition period, the owner will be entitled to equivalent rights in the United Kingdom.

The UK trademark will enjoy a period of protection equal to the remaining period of protection under EU law. When this period expires, the UK trademark shall be renewed independently of the relevant European Union Trademark. This implies separate renewal fees for the equivalent mark on the one hand and for the European Union Trademark on the other hand, to be paid separately to the competent Office (UKIPO and EUIPO, respectively).

For EU trademark applications pending on 1 January 2021, owners have a 9-month period to apply for an equivalent UK trademark while keeping the application date of the original European Union Trademark, provided that the sign applied for and the goods/services are identical or fall within those designated by the original EU trademark.

2Previously designated as Community Trademark.