Bulgarian law recognises both national and international protection and enforceability of industrial property (including patents, trademarks, service marks, geographical indications, industrial design), copyright and other related rights. Further protection is granted also to topographies of integrated circuits, new plant varieties and animal breeds. Generally, Bulgarian intellectual property laws and regulations are in line with the European Union's corresponding legislation.
Bulgaria is a party to all major international treaties governing intellectual property protection, including the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks and the Protocol thereto, the Hague Agreement Concerning the International Deposit of Industrial Designs, the Patent Cooperation Treaty and the European Patent Convention, the Berne Convention for the Protection of Literary and Artistic Works, etc. By virtue of its membership to the World Trade Organisation (the "WTO") and as a signatory to the Agreement for the Establishment of WTO, Bulgaria is also bound by the Agreement on Traderelated Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights.
Generally, the requirements of the international treaties signed by the country are incorporated into the domestic regulations.
The Patent Office is the competent authority administering legal protection for industrial property rights. The main functions and powers of the Patent Office include, inter alia: (i) examination and granting of legal protection for trademarks, inventions and utility models, geographical indications; (ii) providing information and documentation activities and services in the field of industrial property; and (iii) maintaining state registries with respect to protected industrial property.
The Bulgarian Law on Patents1 (hereinafter referred to as the "LP") provides for the national regime for protection of patents for inventions and utility models.
Under the LP the exclusive right to an invention is acquired by patenting and comprises of the right of use, the right to prohibit third parties from using the invention without the consent of the patent proprietor and the right to dispose of it.
Patent for inventions are granted for 20 (twenty) years term, commencing on the filing date.
All rights to patents, except for rights to prior use and to subsequent use, could be subject to transfer without transfer of the going concern of the applicant.
The Law on Marks and Geographical Indications2 (the "LMGI") sets forth the terms and conditions for registration of marks, the rights arising out of the registration and the mechanisms for protection of such rights. Under the LMGI any Bulgarian and foreign natural person or legal entity is eligible to apply for registration of a mark.
Subject to protection may be marks consisting of words, images, graphics, embosses and any combination thereof, combinations of colours, including acoustic marks. In addition to the standard marks for goods and for services the LMGI introduces two other types of marks: collective marks and certificate marks.
The term of protection of a registered mark is ten years, commencing on the application date. The term could be subject to renewal for additional terms of ten years without any limitations on the number of renewals.
Under Bulgarian law any proprietor of a trademark is free to transfer its rights related thereto, notwithstanding the transfer of the going-concern. In addition the LMGI also recognises the so-called "partial" transfer of rights in trademarks, i.e. if a trademark is protected for a number of classes it is possible to validly and legally transfer the rights of the proprietor in only one class of protection or even for part of the protected goods/services belonging to a particular class.
In order to be valid vis-a-vis third parties the transfer should be registered with the Trademark Registry upon request of either the transferor or the transferee.
4 Industrial Designs
Pursuant to the provisions of the Law on Industrial Design3 (the "LID") a registered design shall confer on its holder the right to use and transfer the design and the right to prevent any unauthorised third party from copying the design or commercially using the design included within the scope of protection. An industrial design is initially granted for a 10 (ten) years term of protection, commencing on the application date. The initial term could be subject to three prolongations of 5 (five) years each.
All rights to industrial design are transferable. A transfer becomes effective visavis third parties as of the date of its registration with the Bulgarian Patent Office.
5 Knowhow/Commercial secrets
The Bulgarian Law on Protection of Competition4 and the Law on Commerce provide for protection of commercial secrets. The Law on Commerce does not contain a definition of the term "commercial secret" but prohibits procurators, attorneysinfact and intermediaries from disclosing the commercial secrets of their assignees.
The Law on Protection of Competition defines commercial secrets as facts, information, solutions and data that are related to economic activities of the persons where the latter are interested in keeping such facts, information, solutions and data confidential and have undertaken the necessary measures in this respect. The disclosure of commercial secrets is prohibited and the sanctions imposed by the Commission on Protection of Competition for violations of the secrecy obligations are in the form of monetary fines payable to the state.
Similar to other civil law systems, Bulgarian law does not provide for separate protection of know-how or a definition thereof. To the extend that the know-how includes or comprises of commercial or production secrets it will be protected under the provisions prohibiting unfair competition. Otherwise, know-how is to be protected by its owner through common means and in particular by keeping it in secrecy.
6 Trade Names
Being a member state of Paris Convention Bulgaria protects trade names without any obligation for filing. Under the Bulgarian Law on Commerce trade names are subject to registration in the commercial registry. In addition trade names are to be entered into a special database kept by each one of the district courts in Bulgaria. Thus, it is impossible to register identical company names in the region of the relevant district court.
1 Promulgated in State Gazette, Issue No. 27 of 2 April 1993, as subsequently amended.
2 Promulgated in State Gazette, Issue No. 81 of 14 September 1999, as subsequently amended.
3 Promulgated in State Gazette, Issue No. 81 of 14 September 1999, as subsequently amended.
4 Promulgated in State Gazette, Issue No. 52 of 8 May 1998, as subsequently amended.
Nadejda Krastanova is an associate of the Company Commercial Law Dept. of Studio Legale Sutti in Milan.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.