OHIM, the Trade Marks and Designs Registration Office of the European Union, has recently been granted new competencies in the area of counterfeiting and piracy and, in particular, entrusted with the European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights.
In April 2009, the European Commission launched the "European Observatory on Counterfeiting and Piracy" in order to further enhance the enforcement of intellectual property rights in the internal market. It was not until three years later that the EU Regulation No. 386/2012 entrusted OHIM with tasks related to the enforcement of IP rights and, in particular, the work of the now named "European Observatory on Infringements of Intellectual Property Rights" ("Observatory"). The Regulation entered into force on 5 June 2012.
As a result, OHIM is now not only an EU agency responsible for the registration of Community trademarks and Community designs, but also for certain tasks related to the enforcement of IP rights and for the activities of the Observatory.
The Observatory is a network of public and private sector experts, authorities and stakeholders (including industry representatives and user organizations), set up to promote the discussion, research, data collection and exchange of information, training, communication and cooperation, creation of technical support tools and the spread of best practices on IP matters, in order to fight against IP rights infringements in the EU more effectively.
The tasks and competencies entrusted to OHIM with regard to the Observatory include:
- Improving the understanding of the scope and impact of infringements of IP rights;
- Enhancing the knowledge of best public and private sector practices to protect IP rights;
- Enhancing the expertise of people involved in the enforcement of IP rights (training programs);
- Raising citizens' awareness of the impact of infringements of IP rights;
- Enhancing the knowledge of technical tools to prevent and combat counterfeiting and piracy, including tracking and tracing systems;
- Improving the online exchange of information between Member States' authorities and fostering co-operation with and between the Member States' IP offices;
- Fostering international cooperation with IP offices in third countries.
OHIM has already carried out a consultation among the relevant stakeholders to better understand their views on the priorities, mission and role of the Observatory. More than 80 different organizations made contributions to this public consultation, which shall be taken into account for the drafting of Observatory's work program for 2013.
The first plenary session of the Observatory took place in Alicante on 27-28 September and Paul Maier (currently the President of OHIM's Boards of Appeal) was appointed the first Director of the Observatory.
Overall, OHIM is certainly well-placed to carry out activities relating to the Observatory as it has the expertise, resources and multinational capabilities to perform the tasks. For example, OHIM is currently in the process of creating a web-based "Enforcement Database" (expected completion in 2013) to assist national enforcement authorities in detecting counterfeit goods and to facilitate effective data sharing between right holders and local authorities.
However, OHIM's new competencies in the field of IP enforcement should not be overestimated, as further legislative changes would be required to change the current status quo. Nevertheless, it is hoped that the work of the Observatory will result in further harmonization of the often divergent national practices and in certain legislative initiatives to further improve the enforcement of IP rights in the EU.