Enforcement

Trademark enforcement proceedings

What types of legal or administrative proceedings are available to enforce the rights of a trademark owner against an alleged infringer or dilutive use of a mark, apart from previously discussed opposition and cancellation actions? Are there specialised courts or other tribunals? Is there any provision in the criminal law regarding trademark infringement or an equivalent offence?

Cases that may be raised in an IP violation administrative proceeding before the IP Office of the Philippines (IPOPHL) Bureau of Legal Affairs (BLA) include:

  • false designation of origin;
  • false or fraudulent declaration (in the procurement of a trademark registration);
  • trademark infringement; and
  • unfair competition.

The IP Code recognises trademark infringement and unfair competition as both criminal and civil actions, which may be filed before the special commercial courts (regional trial courts that are specially designated through Supreme Court resolutions).

Under the IP Code, trademark infringement occurs through:

  • the unauthorised commercial use of a reproduction, counterfeit, copy or colourable imitation of a registered mark which is likely to cause confusion or deception; or
  • the unauthorised reproduction, counterfeiting, copying or colourable imitation of a registered mark or its dominant features and the application of this to labels, signs, prints, packages, wrappers, receptacles or advertisements intended to be used in commerce.

Under Section 168 of the IP Code, unfair competition occurs when a party employs deception or any other means contrary to bad faith to pass off its own goods or services for those of another. This includes:

  • giving goods the general appearance of another’s, either with regard to the goods themselves or through the packaging, presentation, devices and marks thereon, whether registered or not; and
  • making false statements in the course of trade or other acts calculated to discredit the goods, business or services of another.
Procedural format and timing

What is the format of the infringement proceeding?

Infringement may take the form of administrative, civil or criminal actions. The applicable procedural rules depend on the type of case involved. Administrative actions for infringement are filed with the IPOPHL BLA and are governed by the Rules and Regulations on Administrative Complaints for Violation of Laws Involving IP Rights, supplemented by the Rules of Court. However, the technical rules of evidence are not strictly applied to administrative proceedings of infringement. On the first level of administrative infringement actions, the decision is rendered by a BLA adjudication officer whose decision may be appealed to the director of the BLA and eventually to the Office of the Director General (ODG).

For criminal actions of infringement, the complaint must be instituted with the Department of Justice National Prosecution Service for the purposes of preliminary investigation. A criminal case will be filed with the special commercial courts only if probable cause is found.

A civil case of infringement is filed before the special commercial courts and heard by a commercial court judge of that particular jurisdiction. Both civil and criminal infringement actions are governed by the Rules of Procedure for IP Rights Cases, while the Rules of Court apply suppletorily.

All infringement actions take the form of adversarial proceedings with a full-blown trial requiring the presentation of witnesses. Modes of discovery and provisional remedies are available for administrative, civil and criminal actions, but search and seizure proceedings are available for civil and criminal cases only. Complainants in all kinds of infringement action may claim damages against the infringer and require the seizure of the infringing materials and the cessation of the unlawful activity. However, only a criminal conviction may result in the imprisonment of the infringer.

An administrative proceeding is generally cheaper and faster than a civil or criminal proceeding. Judicial proceedings elevated all the way to the Supreme Court usually take between 10 and 15 years to complete, while administrative proceedings usually take five years to obtain a decision from the IPOPHL ODG.

This also applies to unfair competition actions.

Burden of proof

What is the burden of proof to establish infringement or dilution?

The burden of proof lies with the claimant, subject to certain disputable presumptions. The quantum of evidence required is determined by the kind of proceeding. An administrative action requires substantial evidence (ie, relevant evidence that a reasonable mind may accept as adequate to support or justify a conclusion). Civil actions require the preponderance of evidence (ie, evidence that is superior to the other), while criminal actions require guilt beyond reasonable doubt to convict the accused (ie, a degree of proof that, excluding the possibility of error, produces moral certainty).

Standing

Who may seek a remedy for an alleged trademark violation and under what conditions? Who has standing to bring a criminal complaint?

Only the registered owner of the mark has standing to file an infringement action – whether civil, criminal or administrative. For unfair competition, the owner of a trademark – whether registered or not – may file the civil, criminal or administrative complaint.

Border enforcement and foreign activities

What border enforcement measures are available to halt the import and export of infringing goods? Can activities that take place outside the country of registration support a charge of infringement or dilution?

To aid its monitoring and inspection of imports, the IP rights division of the Bureau of Customs (BOC) maintains an IP rights registry. The importation of counterfeit goods bearing marks recorded with the BOC is monitored. The BOC may also issue alerts or hold orders on its own initiative or on the request of an IP rights owner. Once an alert or hold order has been issued, the suspicious goods will be examined and if there is prima facie basis to subject these to seizure proceedings, a warrant of seizure and detention may be issued against the shipment. Seized counterfeit goods are subject to destruction.

Discovery

What discovery or disclosure devices are permitted for obtaining evidence from an adverse party, from third parties, or from parties outside the country?

The following modes of discovery are available for the limited purpose of obtaining evidence from an adverse party:

  • deposition;
  • written interrogatories;
  • requests for admission; and
  • a motion for the production and inspection of documents or things.

Complainants in a civil or criminal infringement action may apply to the court for the issuance of a search warrant and the impoundment of sales invoices and other documents evidencing the sales of the defendant.

Timing

What is the typical time frame for an infringement or dilution, or related action, at the preliminary injunction and trial levels, and on appeal?

At first instance, administrative and judicial proceedings take between three to five years to resolve from the time of the filing of the complaint. Appeal proceedings before the director of the BLA and the IPOPHL ODG take at least two years per level to be resolved. Appeal proceedings before the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court may span several years due to the high volume of pending cases.

The provisional remedy of injunction is typically resolved within three to six months. In cases where the applicant of the injunction is likely to suffer great or irreparable injury, a temporary restraining order (TRO) may be issued by the court within three to five days from the time that it is applied for – this will be valid for 20 days. In cases of extreme urgency and where the applicant for injunction will suffer grave injustice and irreparable injury, a TRO may be issued within one or two days – this will be valid for 72 hours.

Limitation period

What is the limitation period for filing an infringement action?

The prescriptive period for administrative actions and civil actions based on the IP Code is four years from the time the cause of action arose. Criminal actions prescribe after eight years. These periods are counted either from the date of commission of the violation or, if the date is unknown, from the date of discovery of the violation.

Litigation costs

What is the typical range of costs associated with an infringement or dilution action, including trial preparation, trial and appeal?

Court fees for filing actions for IP rights violations depend on the amount of damages claimed by the complainant. Costs for legal representation vary depending on the complexity and urgency of the work to be done. For first-level infringement actions, expected costs for legal representation are at least $10,000.

Litigation costs may be awarded to the winning party at the discretion of the court and subject to substantiation.

Appeals

What avenues of appeal are available?

In administrative proceedings, decisions of the director of the BLA may be appealed in the same manner as appealing a denied application (see “Are applications published for opposition?”).

In civil and criminal proceedings, decisions of the special commercial court are appealable to the Court of Appeals and then the Supreme Court.

Defences

What defences are available to a charge of infringement or dilution, or any related action?

Apart from non-infringement, a defendant may claim prescription, lack of notice and good-faith prior use in an infringement action. The owner of a registered mark will not be entitled to recover profits or damages unless the acts have been committed with the knowledge that such imitation is likely to cause confusion, mistake or deception. In addition, the registration of a mark will have no effect against any party that was using the mark for its business and enterprise in good faith before the filing date or priority date of the registered mark.

In unfair competition cases, defendants may claim good faith or the absence of intent to deceive the public and defraud a competitor, which is a material element in the crime. The defence of prescription may also be raised.

Remedies

What remedies are available to a successful party in an action for infringement or dilution, etc? What criminal remedies exist?

In all kinds of infringement and unfair competition action, the complainant may request and be granted a preliminary injunction and/or a TRO and preliminary attachment, depending on the circumstances of the case.

A successful complainant for infringement or unfair competition may recover damages, which may be based on reasonable profit or, if the measure of damages cannot be readily ascertained, a reasonable percentage based on the amount of gross sales of the defendant. The amount of damages may be doubled on showing that the defendant had actual intent to mislead the public or defraud the complainant. In addition, moral and/or exemplary damages may be claimed in cases where the acts were committed in a fraudulent or willful manner.

Administrative penalties include:

  • the issuance of a cease and desist order;
  • the condemnation or seizure of the subject of the offence;
  • the forfeiture of paraphernalia and all real and personal properties used in the commission of the offence;
  • the imposition of administrative fines; and
  • the cancellation or suspension of any permit, licence or registration that may have been granted by the IPOPHL.

The courts may also grant a final injunctive relief and order the disposal of the infringing goods. Independent of the civil and administrative penalties imposed by law, a criminal liability of two to five years’ imprisonment and a fine ranging from P50,000 to P200,000 will be imposed on a person found guilty of infringement.

ADR

Are ADR techniques available, commonly used and enforceable? What are the benefits and risks?

Although ADR techniques are available in the Philippines, they are rarely used. For administrative proceedings, mediation is mandatory at the BLA and ODG levels. Court-annexed mediation and judicial dispute resolutions are also available for judicial proceedings.

ADR proceedings have proven to be a quick and cheaper option. However, unlike administrative and judicial proceedings, the results of ADR are not binding against third persons. In addition, the parties’ submission to ADR techniques is often a waiver of their right to any other recourse to judicial authorities. Resolutions through ADR are generally unappealable. Thus, in the absence of available remedies for the review of decisions promulgated through ADR, errors made in these proceedings are incurable, subject to certain exceptions.

Law stated date

Correct on

Give the date on which the information above is accurate.

2 September 2019.