On Thursday 23 June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the
European Union by a majority of 52/48%. There is significant
uncertainty about what the future holds for the UK, both in the
short-term whilst the withdrawal process is negotiated and in the
long term post-Brexit. Whilst the referendum result is not legally
binding, the UK government has indicated that it will enforce the
decision to exit the EU. A notification under Article 50 (which
triggers the exit process for an EU member state) has yet to be
made. However, the indications are that an Article 50 notice will
be issued a some stage, triggering the exit of the UK from the
Much will depend on the model chosen for the future relationship
between the UK and the EU.
The main options available to the UK are as follows:
Joining the European Free Trade
Association (EFTA), also known as the 'Swiss
Joining the European Economic Area
(EEA) (an EEA agreement would incorporate
significant parts of EU legislation) also known as the
Agreeing numerous bilateral trade
agreements with the EU; or
Continue relying on the rights and
obligations under the World Trade Organisation
The UK government will negotiate the secession process with the
European Commission. The procedure is set out in Article 50 of the
Treaty of the European Union (TEU) and involves notification to the
European Council followed by a 2 year negotiation period, unless
otherwise unanimously agreed.
What does this mean for intellectual property rights
Whilst the withdrawal process is undertaken, the UK remains a
member of the EU and the legal aspects of doing business in the EU
Given that the Article 50 notification procedure has yet to be
triggered, there is uncertainty about how long the withdrawal
process will take. Accordingly, no immediate action is required.
However it is important to be aware of the position, and what is
likely to change.
The European Patent Office, which is the body that grants
European Patent applications, is not an EU institution and
therefore Brexit will not affect existing European Patents.
The Unified Patent Court (UPC) and the Unitary
Patent (UP) have not yet come into effect and it
remains unclear if and how they will be affected by Brexit as both
are tied to the EU. London was intended to be the base for one of
the Central Divisions of the UPC, however this may now change.
EU registrations of trade marks, both existing and future, will
no longer cover the UK post-Brexit.
It is likely that some form of transitional arrangement
concerning existing EU trade marks will be put in place to govern
their applicability in the UK. In any event, EU registered trade
marks will not be affected until the UK actually leaves the EU,
which is likely to be in at least two years' time.
As with trade marks, both existing and future Registered
Community Designs (RCD) will no longer cover the UK post-Brexit.
Again, some form of transitional arrangement is likely to be agreed
to determine the applicability of RCDs in the UK following Brexit.
This may involve a re-registration process or an automated
'conversion' of the EU registered right.
What should I do?
At present, there is nothing to be done – it is business
as usual for owners of intellectual property rights in Europe.
In due course, things are likely to change and it is therefore
important to monitor the position moving forward and we will, of
course, provide further updates as negotiations between the UK and
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