Amendments to the Rules Governing Registration of Word-Marks in Mexico

July 17, 2011 at 7:33 PM Leave a comment

On June 11, 2011, the Official Journal of the Federation published amendments to the Rules of the Mexican Industrial Property Statue (the Rules).

The amendments corrected a few inconsistencies between the Rules and the Industrial Property Statute (the Statute), adjusted a few regulations to follow some repeated rulings of the Federal Court of Tax and Administrative Affairs and simplified the acknowledgement of priority claims in trademark matters.

CHANGES TO THE RULES OF WORD MARKS

I think that the most important amendment to the Rules refers to word marks.

In Mexico, only graphic symbols are acknowledged as trademarks, thus only graphics may be registered to obtain exclusivity rights on them. Depending on the claims stated in the application and the characteristics of the mark, there are four kinds of registered trademarks: nominativas or word-marks, innominadas or design-only marks, mixtas or word+design marks and tridimensionales or three-dimensional marks.

Word-marks consist of literal elements only, such as a word, a phrase or a combination of numbers and/or letters. One issue that neither the Statute nor the Rules clarified was if symbols, such as &, @ and +, and written signs that do not exist in Spanish, such as the (apostrophe), could be registered as part of a word-mark.

The amendment to the Rules of June 10 seeks to clarify, in a restrictive and confusing way, what can be included in a word mark.

The amended last paragraph of section 56 of the Rules, now states that “word marks and slogans may only include letters or words taken from the roman alphabet, western Arabic numbers and those written signs that would help the correct understanding of the mark”.

What surprised me more of the amendment, was the used of the expression “Roman alphabet”. In Mexico the official language is Spanish, and Spanish speakers use the Spanish -not the Roman- alphabet.

I believe that the new section 56 of the Rules now clearly exclude symbols such as &, #, @, mathematical symbols (+, /, >, <) and currency symbols ($, €), among others, from being included in trademark applications for word-marks.

Further, the amended section 56 of the Rules makes it very clear that word marks may not be expressed in characters taken from non-Latin alphabets, such as Greek, Hebrew, Chinese, Arabic, Cyrillic, etc.

The reform does not prohibit the registration of trademarks that include mathematical symbols or letters from non-Latin alphabets. However, such trademarks may not be registered as word marks, given that the Rules now implicitly consider such characters as a sort of drawing. Therefore, trademarks with non-Latin Characters or other symbols as the ones explained above have to be filed as design-only marks (innominadas) or word+design (mixtas) marks.

This is a quite relevant change. If a trademark is registered as a word-mark, the trademark owner may use it in any font, size and color, and such use would be regarded as use of the registered trademark for maintenance purposes. If a trademark is filed as word+design or design-only, the registrant must attach a print of the trademark to the application; if the registration is issued, the trademark owner must use the trademark as registered, so the use may be acknowledged as valid use of the registered trademark for maintenance purposes, including renewal.

I did not understand the distinction in the amended section 56 of the Rules about “written signs that would help the correct understanding of the mark”. What is the point of the distinction? If there are written signs that would help the correct understanding of the mark, then there could be written signs that would not help the correct understanding of the mark, or worst, that help the incorrect understanding of the mark?

My opinion is that there are no written signs included in the mark that help the correct understanding of the trademark. Written signs included in the mark are not intended to helping understanding the mark; they are part of the mark, thus all orthographic signs should be allowed to be included in word-marks. I am sure that among the written signs that will not have a problem to be part of word-marks are the punctuation marks, the exclamation (¡ !) and interrogation points (¿ ?), the diaeresis and the accent, although doubts and objections about the dash and the apostrophe are likely.

Other unclear, and somehow odd, issue involves trademarks that evolved from the Latin alphabet but do not actually belong to it, i.e. “Æ”, “Ç”, “Ø”, etc. Given that a word mark may only include characters from the Roman alphabet, the first reaction could be that a trademark that includes such letters may not be registered as a word-mark.

However, there are letters in Spanish that evolved from the Roman alphabet, but do not actually belong to it, such as “J”, “W” and most notably the “Ñ”. There is no question that the “Ñ” belongs to the Spanish alphabet, but undoubtedly is was not a part of the Roman alphabet; further, the classic Latin alphabet did not include the “J” and “W”.

Certainly, it would be ridiculous stating that, as a consequence of the amendment of section 56 of the Rules, words that include the “Ñ”, “W” or “J” may not be registered as word-marks any long. Then, the new section 56 of the Rules should be understood in the sense that all words including letters that evolved from the Latin alphabet should be allowed to be part of word-marks, naturally including the “Ñ”, “W” and “J”, but also “ß”, “Å”, “Ŝ”, “Ų” and all other letters that do not exist in Spanish but in other languages that that evolved from Roman characters too.

I am not sure if the Mexican Patent and Trademark Office will use a narrow concept of “Roman Alphabet” (excluding the registration as word-marks of trademarks that use the “Ñ”, “J” or “W”) or liberal (including each and all letters that developed from Roman, regardless if they belong to the Spanish alphabet or not), but it would not the first time that a rule or statutory provision is constructed in a way different of what the Government or the Congress meant. As example, there is the case of the extension of life of pipe-line patents (see The extension of Life of Patents in Mexico)and the inclusion of formulation patents in the linkage system situated in section 67 Bis of the Rules (see The Mexican Supreme Court expands the linkage system to prevent patent infringement). It would be odd and regretful, but I would not be surprised if in the future, Wikipedia becomes the authorized source to know what trademarks may be registered as word-marks in Mexico and which ones do not.

The Mexican government would have avoided problems if, instead of using the phrase “Roman alphabet”, they would have used the expression “Spanish alphabet”.

Another topic that makes me uneasy is the reason behind the restrictive amendment to section 56 of the Rules. Why the Executive Branch decided to restrict the possibility of obtaining word-mark registrations to those trademarks using Latin characters only? In a global economy, especially in such an open economy as the Mexican, it does not make much sense to close the possibilities of giving full protection to trademarks originated in other nations just because they are written different.

Further, why denying registration as word-mark of trademarks that use non-orthographic characters (the +, @ and &, for example)? I do not see a technical reason for narrowing the kind of characters that a word-mark may include, especially in the case of symbols that are widely used in Mexico.

I also think that the Administration lost a good opportunity to clarify if it is valid disclaiming words, phrases or letters from word-mark trademark applications. It also waste the opportunity of explaining whether the registration of a design-only or word+design trademark filed in black and white or grays gives the trademark owner the right to use the registered design in any color or color combination, in spite of having being registered in white and black or grays.

In general, I am in favor of any amendment to the Rules or the Statute that provides more certainty about the procedures and substantive rights, even if I do not like the amendment itself. Therefore, the upside of the amendment of section 56 of the Rules is that now it is clear that trademarks including or consisting of non-orthographic symbols and signs, and marks written in non-Latin characters cannot be registered as word-marks in Mexico. Now we have to clarify, and probably the courts will do it, how narrow or liberal is going to be the concept of “Roman Alphabet” that Mexican lawyers will have to use in trademark law to determine if a trademark may be registered as word-mark.

Finally, an issue that should concern Mexican practitioners is the potential conflict between the new Mexican Rules and the Paris Convention, in connection with priority-based trademark applications for word-marks that include letters or signs that may not be registered in Mexico, under the amended Rules, as word-marks.

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The Mexican Supreme Court provides guidelines about examination of three-dimensional trademarks Mexico simplifies the acknowledgement of priority claims in trademark matters

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