The number of trademark disputes in the UK has more than doubled to a record high as Brexit triggers intellectual property battles

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The data provided by Mathys & Squire was the subject of an article by The temperature, Technical register and AM City highlighting an upsurge in opposition to trademarks following Brexit.

An extended version of the release is available below.

The number of oppositions to trade mark applications in the UK has more than doubled to a record 8,026 in 2021, from 3,584 in 2020*, according to intellectual property law firm Mathys & Squire.

Mathys & Squire explains that the rise in UK trademark litigation has been fueled by Brexit. The UK left the EU trade mark system in January 2021, meaning any business wishing to protect a trade mark in the UK must now file a separate application in the UK. This caused a strong rush to file trademark applications, leading to an increase in the number of oppositions filed.

Earlier this year, research by Mathys & Squire found there had been a record number of trademark applications, with 195,000 applications in 2020/21, up 54% from 127,000 in 2019/20 **.

The Intellectual Property Office (IPO), the government agency that handles trademark, patent and design registrations, was recently forced to recruit more than 100 new staff to clear a backlog of trademark applications. This high level of trademark applications – and related litigation – is likely to be a long-term trend, as the UK’s exit from the European Union’s trademark system is permanent.

Trademark disputes, known as trademark oppositions, arise when a company files a trademark application with the IPO and another person or company attempts to “block” it. The IPO will determine in opposition proceedings whether a trademark application should be rejected on the basis of a prior right or other grounds such as bad faith.

Recent disputes over well-known brands in the UK include:

  • Amazon objected to a request from a Dubai-based coffee producer covering a range of similarly branded food and drink products.
  • McDonald’s opposed an application to register the trademark ‘McVegan’ in the UK – it won and was awarded costs.
  • Shine TV, the producer of the BBC television series MasterChef, has successfully opposed three trademark applications incorporating the words ‘MASTER CHEF ACADEMY’ for education and training services.

Harry Rowe, Managing Associate at Mathys & Squire, comments: “The UK trademark rush, fueled by Brexit, has inevitably led to more litigation. Businesses should ensure that they monitor the register to maintain the distinctiveness and value of their brands.

“It’s not likely to be a short-term spike in litigation – that’s what trademark protection in the UK is going to look like.”

“Brexit has opened up a whole new battleground for companies with valuable brands to protect. Before Brexit, trademark holders could protect their trademark in all EU member states in one application. Now that the UK is no longer covered by an EU trade mark, trade mark owners must file two separate applications in order to obtain the same protection.

“There is now twice as much ground to cover for companies looking to protect their investment in their brands.”

* Year ended December 31, 2021. Source: Intellectual Property Office

** Year-end October 31, 2021. Source: Intellectual Property Office

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