Last month, India officially acceded to The Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks (Madrid Protocol). This will allow trademark owners from Madrid Protocol countries the ability after July 8, 2013 to register their trademarks in India based on their registrations in their home Madrid Protocol country. From an initial observation, registering a mark in India under the Madrid Protocol offers several advantages over a direct registration at India’s trademark office, The Controller General of Patents Designs and Trademarks (CGPDTM). Reduced filing fees and a uniform registration process are among these advantages. However, there are several issues trademark owners should evaluate when considering whether to a file a mark in India under the Madrid Protocol. First, it is important to understand how the Madrid Protocol works.
How Does the Madrid Protocol Work? The Madrid Protocol allows trademark owners to file an international trademark application based on a national trademark registration in a Madrid Protocol country (known as the “basic application” or “basic registration”) to obtain trademark protection in other Madrid Protocol countries. Once filed, an international application is submitted to the International Bureau at the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) and evaluated based on international requirements. If approved, the trademark is registered for protection in countries designated in the international application (subject to such countries’ potential opposition). Once successfully registered, the trademark is treated as if it were filed in each of the foreign countries identified in the international application, subject to specific restrictions.
Central Attack. Determining whether an international registration is subject to central attack is the most crucial issue in determining whether to consider filing a trademark in India under the Madrid Protocol or directly with the CGPDTM. Central attack occurs when a basic application or its resulting registration of a mark is withdrawn, lapsed or renounced within five years of the international registration of the mark under the Madrid Protocol. When this occurs, all Madrid Protocol international trademark registrations filed under the basic application are invalidated. However, after this five year period, a trademark owner’s Madrid Protocol international registration becomes independent of its basic application. This allows a trademark to qualify for national registration in the foreign countries identified in the international registration regardless of its invalidation in its native Madrid Protocol country.
Based on these circumstances, a trademark owner who can ensure that their mark’s basic application or resulting registration will not be invalidated within five years after international registration under the Madrid Protocol may find registering their mark in India under the Madrid Protocol more advantageous. However, if a trademark owner knows that their basic application or resulting registration will likely face potential invalidation within five years of filing a Madrid Protocol international registration in India, a direct filing with the CGPDTM would likely be a more prudent choice.
**Important Note**: A trademark owner whose basic application or resulting registration is subject to potential central attack in their home country may seek national registration in another Madrid Protocol country as their basic application, and then file a international registration in India through the Madrid Protocol. This can be done if the owner has enough presence in that Madrid Protocol country to qualify as a “real and effective industrial or commercial establishment.”
As it is difficult to determine the threat of central attack or if a trademark owner can register their mark in a foreign Madrid Protocol member state, obtaining qualified counsel to assess such issues is always suggested.
Registration Costs. If costs are a trademark owner’s main concerns, the Madrid Protocol provides upfront cost savings. Yet, additional expenses may arise if an international registration is opposed. Although varying based on currency rates, legal fees and the number of registration classes, registering a trademark in India through the CGPDTM costs roughly between US$300.00-$500.00. In comparison, filing an international application under the Madrid Protocol can be substantially less. For example, a Madrid Protocol filing fee in the U.S. is US$100.00-$150.00 per class (excluding fees for the basic application and associated legal costs).
However, as Madrid Protocol registrations are subject to opposition from national trademark offices, a trademark owner’s Madrid Protocol registration that becomes subject to opposition by the CGPDTM may have to spend additional funds to overcome such an opposition. Under Article 5(1) of the Madrid Protocol, any Madrid Protocol member state trademark office may object to a Madrid Protocol international registration based on international criteria provided in Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property. Defending against such an opposition may negate any cost savings obtained from a Madrid Protocol registration as a trademark owner would likely have to hire counsel to assist with such a defense. Although registering the same mark under a direct CGPDTM filing may also subject its owner to a CGPDTM action, working with qualified Indian counsel in registering a trademark directly with the CGPDTM may help to mitigate the risk of such an action, or at least provide immediate and knowledgeable assistance in the defense of a potential CGPDTM action.
Assignments and Amendments. Determining whether the Madrid Protocol should be utilized to register a mark in India also depends if the trademark owner intends to amend or assign the mark’s international registration. Article 9 of the Madrid Protocol only permits a Madrid Protocol international registration to be assigned to a person or entity who is a national, domiciled, or has a substantial business presence in a Madrid Protocol member state. This potentially limits the economic desirability of a Madrid Protocol international registration as it prohibits its assignability. For example, Canada and Brazil, two major world economies, are currently not Madrid Protocol members, meaning that their citizens or businesses may not likely become assignees to an Indian Madrid Protocol registration. If a trademark owner knows that they are likely to quickly assign their Madrid Protocol registration in India after registration, as a part of a sale of a business or otherwise, such foreign assignment restrictions should be considered when choosing how to register their mark.
Additionally, the Madrid Protocol restricts amendments to international registrations. An international trademark application filed under the Madrid Protocol cannot be amended once it is submitted for examination to the International Bureau at WIPO. These restrictions appear to run contrary to rights provided under Indian trademark law. Under Article 22 of India’s Trade Marks Act, the CGPDTM Registrar may allow a trademark application, either before or after registration, to be amended under “just” circumstances. If a trademark owner knows or believes that they will likely need to amend their Indian trademark application or registration, they should consider a direct registration with the CGPDTM over a Madrid Protocol registration because a direct registration will allow greater registration flexibility.
Parting Issues to Consider Regardless of Registration. Regardless of which Indian trademark registration process a trademark owners chooses, enforcing trademark protections in India remains challenging. In the 2013 Special 301 Report by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, India was identified as having judicial inefficiencies and insufficient criminal enforcement against IP infringers. These problems can make any type of trademark enforcement efforts in India difficult. Based on these concerns, trademark owners should work with qualified local counsel to ensure effective enforcement of their marks in India.
What does India’s Madrid Protocol accession mean for your business?