Relevant amendments to the Industral Property law of Mexico

Citlali Carlos
Associate attorney at VILA Attorneys at Law

There have been two transcendental amendments to the industrial property law of Mexico, which are important to keep in mind for those EU SMEs who are planning to invest in our country.

The first amendment was published on March 13 2018, mainly in the field of Industrial Designs and Geographical Indications.

Industrial Designs:

Industrial designs refer to the appearance of a product, namely any element or combination of flat elements, with aesthetic or ornamental nature such as shape, colour, design, texture, with or without relief, that incorporated into an industrial or craft product (two-dimensional object), may serve as a pattern for industrial or handicraft production.

Most countries demand novelty as a minimum requirement for design protection.

  • Main changes: The concept of “new” is clarified for the effects of the registration of industrial designs, since previously it was stipulated that only designs created independently and that were different in a significant degree would be considered new, with no definitions given for “independent creation” and “significant degree”, now a creation is considered independent when no other identical industrial design has been made public before the filing date of the application or before the priority date, and an industrial design will be considered identical to another one, if it differs only in irrelevant details; the term “significant degree” is now stipulated as the general impression that and expert in the subject has on the industrial design, which should be different from the general impression caused from any other industrial design.
  • The validity of industrial designs has been modified, which was previously of 15 non-extendable years and that has changed now to 5 renewable years for equal periods of time up to a maximum of 25 years.

It is important to mention that, industrial designs registered before the entry of the mentioned decree will maintain their validity until the 15 years come to an end, and they will be able to be renewed for 2 successive 5 year periods, without exceeding the maximum of 25 years.

However, industrial designs’ applications submitted but not granted yet, could benefit from the new extension provided that the applicant opts in no later than 30 days after the entry into force of the reform.

Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications:

Geographical Indications (GI) refer to signs that identify products by the name of their particular provenance, and stand out because of their quality, reputation or other characteristics which are essentially attributable to that geographical origin.

Appellations of Origin (AO) are similar to GI as long as both identify the geographic origin where a product is produced, and stand out by their quality, reputation or other characteristics, which are essentially attributable to that geographical origin as well. However, the main difference is that AO also take in consideration, the human and/or natural factors of the significant environment.

These two forms of protection are not mutually exclusive, thus they could coexist.

Main changes:

  • Unlike the Appellations of Origin, the figure called Geographical Indication is now included, which had been left out from the Mexican legislation.
  • The figure of expiration based on the lack of use for a period of 3 years is included regarding Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indication.
  • The Mexican Institute of Industrial Property (IMPI), will now recognize Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications protected abroad, through a registry created by the Trademark Office.
  • Opposition is now introduced for Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indication, as long as the party justifies its interest to file the opposition according to the law.

The aforementioned reforms are now in force.

The second relevant amendment was published on May 18th, 2018 changing several things mainly in the fields of trademarks and opposition system.

Trademarks

Trademark is any sign, word, symbol, or a combination thereof  that are capable of distinguishing the source of  a product or a service on the market.

Main changes:

  • Non-traditional trademarks are recognized; before this amendment, only visible signs were susceptible for registration and now sensorial signs can be registered such as sounds and scents.
  • The recognition of “certification marks” is now included, which it is defined as a sign that distinguishes goods and services with qualities or other characteristics that have been certified by the owner of the mark, such as components of the product; the conditions under the products have been elaborated or the services have been rendered; the quality; process of the goods or service and the geographical origin of the goods.
  • The option of protecting geographical indications as certification marks is allowed.
  • The provision that required the registration of the trademark in order to obtain the statement of notoriously known or famous is abolished.
  • The statement of use is now mandatory, after the third year of registration of the trademark.
  • Trademark applications filed in bad faith will be now an impediment for registration and a cause of nullity if a registered trademark falls under this statement.
  • Generic and descriptive trademarks that through their use in the market have acquired distinctiveness will be susceptible for registration, known as “secondary meaning”.
  • Trade dress” figure is now included, meaning that image elements of the trademark such as size, design, color, label, packaging, decoration or any other that combined distinguish goods or services in the market, will be susceptible for registration.
  • Coexistence agreements are now allowed, meaning that the registration of trademarks or commercial names similar to others already registered or in the process of registration will be allowed, as long as the consent is given by the owner or applicant with prior rights.
  • The period to file a cancellation action based on the prior use of a trademark, that has been used whether in Mexico or abroad has been extended from 3 to 5 years.

Opposition

  • The kind of proof that can be filed on opposition proceedings is now determined.
  • The possibility of filing closing arguments (allegations) after the response to the opposition has been filed is also included.
  • The PTO will now dictate resolutions regarding the oppositions, which was not mandatory before the reform.

In general, the opposition system recently introduced in Mexico is strengthen and improved.

The aforementioned reform will come into force on August 10th, 2018.

We hope that these measures will encourage EU SMEs to protect their intellectual property rights in Mexico.

What to expect on Intellectual Property as Colombia joins the OECD

Álvaro Ramírez Bonilla
CEO, Latin American IP LLC 

Colombia has recently been accepted to join the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). It is the third Latin American country to join this organization after Mexico and Chile.

In the region, Colombia is the third most populous country in Latin America after Brazil and Mexico and the fourth largest economy after Argentina.

The OECD is an international organization composed of 37 countries. The main objective of this organization is to promote policies to improve social and economic well-being, as well as to achieve the strongest possible expansion of the economy and employment in the member countries and the developing non-member countries.

Belonging to the OECD “club” means to share standards, public policies and good practices common in the most developed countries. This makes a positive impact in terms of investments, services and international business exchanges, which are good news for European SMEs.

The road to accession

Accession demands considerable efforts to fulfill the requirements and minimum standards set out by the OECD.

Intellectual Property (IP) regulations were one of the obstacles Colombia had to face during the process to join OECD. The United States of America included Colombia on its last 301 USTR report (an annual report that “evaluates the level of adequacy and effectiveness provided by U.S. trading partners’ countries on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) protection and enforcement” as it was explained in a previous article here).

Colombia has made significant progress to live up to its responsibilities and must continue to do so. As a result of the taken measures, the country has dramatically reduced its prosecution timeframes. Nowadays, registering a trademark can take as little as four months while in 2000 it took 24 months. The same happened with patents — the time frame was reduced from 55 months to 37.

Colombia to adapt its regulation to demands and policies of the OECD, also has carried out several actions, among them a new copyright law that seeks to protect economic rights for writers, actors, artists and other creators.

What to expect

The OECD will probably propose to create an independent IP authority. Currently the Superintendence of Industry and Commerce (SIC) is the IP authority, which is also in charge of competition law, and consumer and data protection. Many countries already have a specialised office devoted exclusively to IP matters.

We agree with this proposal of an independent entity with its own court system, including the ability to review the granting decision. This function is now on the hands of the highest court of the Administrative law, the Council of State. Unfortunately, this court has a big backlog and IP is not in its priorities. This is a very sensitive matter as most conflicts between parties involve disputes around the validity of IP rights. At this time, civil courts cannot determine the validity of an IP right so cases get suspended until the Council of State makes a decision.

Challenges Colombia must overcome

The Colombian economy is highly dependable on commodities. Coffee, coal and oil have been the major legal Colombian exports. The biggest challenge is to diversify the Colombian offer and the manufacturing of higher value goods and services.

The use of IP by Colombians has been strengthened. Although the number of patent applications filed by locals is very small, the government, through Colciencias, has made an effort to support inventor’s initiatives, but there is still much more to be done.

International organizations like CAF (Andean Development Corporation- Development Bank of Latin America) is also working on increasing the use of the patent system. It has achieved an important growth in Panama, where the pilot project was performed.

Regarding geographical indications, Colombia has more than 26 geographical indications, related to artisanal and agro-food products, among which the most important one is “Café de Colombia”. The SIC has made efforts to seek the protection for more indications that have an impact on international markets.

Colombia has to improve its agenda on IP for innovation. Both the public and private sector must work closely in optimizing the use of IP as an engine for development.

Conclusion

We are confident that Colombia is taking the right steps and will create a safer environment for innovation and foster trust among EU SMEs interested in entering the Colombian market. We strongly believe that, as a new member of the OECD, Colombia will improve its overall innovation process and IP system.

GDPR: a simple approach for European and Latin American SMEs

Alessio Balbo di Vinadio – Trainee at Clarke, Modet & Co. Spain

Following our previous publication on data processing, this article will address the issue of the first few small repercussions of the European Union General Data Protection Regulation (hereinafter ‘GDPR’) on the online world.

In that same aforementioned article, the author rightly stated that companies should hurry up for compliance, as time was running out and the road to achieving full compliance is a very long one (depending on the activity the company carries out, obviously!). One would think that now, approaching the end of the first decade of June 2018, most businesses have already taken care of the privacy matter, in light of its pivotal importance. Well, as we all know, that is not true (not for everyone, at least).

This article is intended to provide a useful overview of important aspects not only for European SMEs but also for Latin American companies operating in the European Union (EU), since one of the highlights of the new regulation is its broadened scope: it is applicable to all companies in the world that handle personal data from European customers, even if the processing takes place outside of the EU.

Preliminarily, it is worth noting that in contrast to the European Union, at present, Latin America has no harmonised legislation on data and privacy, due to different national legislations. This inevitably leads to different levels of protection, all of them still considerably lower than the EU standards (i.e. Guatemala, for instance, still lacks a specific legislation on data protection).

Bearing this in mind, the Latin American region is making serious efforts to respond to the demands of today’s global market. Notwithstanding the current situation, through the Ibero-American Data Protection Network (RIPD) some regional standards have been set as a reference for future implementations. There is still a long way to go and striking differences between countries yet remain. However, it must be acknowledged that Argentina, Mexico, Uruguay and Chile stand out for their domestic legislations on the matter, by virtue either of their age or the existence of local authorities specialized in data protection.

Indeed, all these relative progresses both national and regional, have been developed in accordance with the model established by the EU-GDPR. Therefore, these countries are likely aware of the need to bring Latin American legislation in line with Europe’s in order to attract foreign investment and create a better climate for European SMEs.

Let’s quickly analyse the GDPR: the main changes concern the personal data definition, the increased territorial scope, the penalties, the consent, the newly introduced rights (to access, to be forgotten, data portability), the immediate (within 72 hours) and compulsory data breach notification and, finally, the introduction of the Data Protection Officers (DPO – compulsory only in some cases). Furthermore, companies need to comply with the definitions of ‘Privacy by design’ and ‘Privacy by default’ when dealing with personal data.

Certainly, it can be affirmed that consent is at the very centre of this legislation. The Consent has to be “freely given, specific, informed and unambiguous”, “clearly distinguishable, intelligible and using clear and plain language”, according to, respectively, articles 4 and 7 of the GDPR.

Prior to this introduction, privacy had not been changed this radically for over 20 years and the “data market” was ‘wild’ and uncontrolled. The straw that broke the camel’s back was when Max Schrems, an Austrian privacy lawyer, filed a complaint in 2013 against Mark Zuckerberg’s social network Giant due to the lack of Privacy compliance by Facebook. In his unveiling to the general public, Mr Schrems disclosed 1,200 pages of data that Facebook possessed on him and proved the flaws of the social network’s privacy policy (and its consequent conduct) to be enormous. As an example, prior to those decisions, Facebook would transmit personal data to app developers, with no reason or legally obtained consent. The ‘profiling’ (“any form of automated processing of personal data consisting of the use of personal data to evaluate certain personal aspects relating to a natural person”, as defined by article 4 GDPR) was an activity that allowed Facebook to provide Page Managers with users’ precise information for the advertisement targeting. Advertising was a very relevant source of income for Mark Zuckerberg’s tech Giant.

We are only a few days away the entry into force of the new GDPR and the email boxes of half the planet have been filled up with newsletters, data processing requests, “We care about your privacy” statements and so forth. Notwithstanding, when analysing those emails, not all of them appear to be fully compliant and actually, most of them, have not achieved the ‘simplification’ requirement of privacy law, which was one of the many targets of the GDPR. In fact, emails with excessive material and written in “legalese” (technical-juridical language) do not allow the consent to be informed for the majority of the public, due to the extremely complex language used by the policies.

This new regulation has re-shaped the online (and offline) world, as we have moved from an (online) environment with full access to websites and limitless actions available, to almost completely blocked websites until full GDPR compliance is achieved. To this regard, in these days, when accessing websites, very disturbing banners do not allow the correct displaying of the website (or will ‘bother’ you until you click “I agree”). Additionally, if you are an ‘informed user’ and want to know the purposes of the processing of personal data on the accessed website, a “More information” button should be available (usually next to the “I agree” box) and you should be provided with full disclosure of the data processing carried out on such page. Normally, clicking on that button will redirect the user to a special page displaying the cookies implied (which can be essential, functional and targeting). That particular page is where your preferences will be saved by the “Controller” (the legal entity that determines the purposes of the processing) or the “Processor” (the legal entity that actually processes the data) so that each user’s data will (or will not) be processed and, especially, inform the user for what purposes.

Before the introduction of such law, privacy was almost “disregarded”, as it referred to lengthy and boring legislation with few implications. Nowadays, we can undoubtedly assert that there was – and there still is – indeed a big business on (personal) data used with no legitimate consent. The change derives from the concern that companies have developed about the newly regulated sanctions, in accordance with article 83(4) and 83(5) of the GDPR (20 Million or 4% of the global revenue – whichever is higher – for the harshest fine and 10 million or 2% of the annual global revenue – again, whichever is higher).

In recent days, we have seen many blocked non-EU websites, which, prior to the entry into force of the GDPR, were accessible for European users. Many businesses from all over the world are still not yet compliant with the GDPR, mainly due to the investment required, both economically and in terms of time-management. Full compliance will come with time and dedication, and hopefully, companies that process big amounts of personal data will stop seeing it as an asset and start approaching it in a more intimate and personal manner. The temporary blockage of the access from the EU (until full compliance is achieved) has to be merely momentary, as the GDPR is an issue that has to be addressed compulsorily, as the repercussions can be relevant (sanctions). An incentive to avoid permanent blockage of the website to EU customers would be to avoid losing a considerable market share (significant to most businesses – 508 million inhabitants). As a suggestion, quick GDPR compliance companies have found a niche market at the moment (i.e.Trustarc or OneTrust); these provide a minimum level of compliance and allow to ‘buy’ some time in order to align the business to the newly introduced legislation.

In short: how can we know if the EU GDPR applies to my company?

Due to its wide range, it appears to be difficult not to be affected by the GDPR, but let us summarize in which cases it will be mandatory to implement its measures:

  • When the company tracks EU customers’ data;
  • When the company is based outside the EU but provides goods and/or services (even when free of charge) to EU customers;
  • EU-based companies’ data is collected and processed regardless of the place of collection. This means that EU SMEs operating in Latin America must comply, in any case, with the EU GDPR (even if the data comes from Latin-American customers only) due to the nationality of the company itself.

Generally, compliance is always suggested and carefulness is needed when processing any kind of personal data originating from the EU, so be carefully compliant!

TMview steps in Latin America

Teresa Colaço
Quality Manager – INPI Portugal

The idea behind the creation in 2010 of TMview, the online trademark consultation tool currently managed by EUIPO -formerly known as the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM)-, was the incorporation of the trademarks from around the EU network into its database, allowing easy and effective search among the participating EU national offices and EUIPO.

TMview was launched with trademarks from Benelux, the Czech Republic, Denmark, the United Kingdom, Italy, Portugal, the OHIM and the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)- around 4 million trademarks in total, being Greece the last European country to join in 2013.

As regards Latin America, the Mexican integration in 2013 became TMview’s first steps into the region. Since then, five more LA countries have joined this platform: Brazil (February 2016), Colombia (June 2017), Peru (October 2017), Argentina (November 2017) and Chile (April 2018). The entry of these six countries of Latin America, enriched this database with more than 9.3 million trademarks, and currently, they represent over 20% of its content.

TMview provides access to more than 47, 5 million trademarks from 65 participating offices, providing valuable first-hand information about both trademarks applications and registrations in different economies and regions.

European SMEs seeking to internationalize their business will find below some key benefits of using the platform that may increase legal certainty and help to better plan their strategy on IPR protection:

  • Accurate and reliable information is provided at any time (online) since the respective/corresponding national Office updates it daily.
  • The service is free of charge and is available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year.
  • Data is available in more than 35 languages, including all the official EU languages.
  • Materials are ready for printing and/or downloading, so that users could bring them to legal administrative procedures and court proceedings in case of conflict or infringement, as well as before customs authorities.
  • Easy-to-use and all-in-one tools: directly linked to the EUIPO and national databases through a unique platform, providing first-hand information from the official registers.
  • Provides online knowledge database with articles, tutorials, and support for users.
  • Enables an easy and efficient search through all TMs: national, regional, and international.
  • Enables companies to know what products and services its competitors on the market are protecting.
  • Allows users to know the availability of their ideas for a trademark name.
  • Due to its constant updating, users can check both the updates on trademarks legal status and the deadlines for opposition proceedings.

As Miguel Angel Margáin, Director General of the Mexican Intellectual Property Office expressed in June 2013, “Users can search for trademarks which are being examined or look at trademarks that are registered at international level which helps them to analyse and monitor applications in IP offices which form part of TMview” (in European TDMN News 02/2014).

It is also important to mention the existence of the DesignView database, which collects the same type of information as the TMview but related to registered designs. It is worth pointing out that unlike Europe, the majority of Latin-American countries’ design laws provides no protection for unregistered designs. Only three countries in that region provide such protection: Panama (2 years), Nicaragua and Guatemala (3 years) in a similar way to the European Union. Therefore, European SMEs interested in operating in Latin America should not rely on unregistered protection of their designs in this region.

In conclusion, EU companies that are considering to internationalize their businesses should not forget that, to properly manage and develop their IP portfolio, they have at their disposal a variety of means devoted to reduce the risks and doubts that may arise when entering new markets. It is advisable in any case to carefully plan and seek IP expert assistance to ensure a strong protection of the intangible assets.