EU accedes to Hague Agreement on industrial designs

European Union

The EU Council has issued Council Decision 2006/954/EC approving the accession of the European Union to the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Industrial Designs and the regulation which implements the accession process.

Similar to the accession of the European Union to the Madrid Protocol on October 1 2004 in the field of trademarks, this latest accession establishes an important link between the Community design system and the World Intellectual Property Organization's (WIPO) international design registration system. Applicants can thus obtain protection of their designs not only across the European Union through the Community design but also in countries that have ratified the Geneva Act of the Hague Agreement via the international design registration system.

The Hague Agreement consists of three autonomous and independent international treaties, the most recent of which is the Geneva Act of 1999. The Geneva Act became fully operational in April 2004. The Hague system is administered by the International Bureau of WIPO. People resident or companies based in one of the states party to the Geneva Act - which is also the case for EU member states after its accession to the Geneva Act - benefit from important advantages in the international protection of their designs.

Through one single international application filed with the International Bureau or with a national patent and trademark office, design protection can be obtained in all other member countries. There is only one fee in one currency to be paid at the time of registration and/or renewal. Applications can be filed in one language (either English or French) instead of the much more complex and cost intensive separate applications in each country. An international registration may include up to 100 different designs, but these must belong to the same class under the Locarno Classification (the international classification for industrial designs). Furthermore, an applicant may request publication to be deferred for a maximum period of 30 months from the filing date or from the priority date.

The International Bureau checks only the formal requirements of an application and not for novelty. The substantive examination falls within the exclusive competence of the designated countries and according to their national legislation. If the design is not refused by the national authorities of the designated countries within a six (or 12) month period after publication by WIPO, the design is automatically given protection in the designated countries. The international registration shall be in effect for an initial period of five years. The maximum duration of protection is determined by the national law of the contracting parties.

The accession of the European Union to the Geneva Act is a welcome tool for parties seeking design protection. Hopefully, the EU accession to the Hague system will - similar to the accession of the European Union to the Madrid Protocol with regard to trademarks - encourage other states to join the Hague system to the benefit of designers.

Florian Schwab, Boehmert & Boehmert, Munich

Unlock unlimited access to all WTR content