New binding ruling benefits owners of trademarks registered in Mexico that claimed date of first use.

September 29, 2016 at 9:38 PM Leave a comment

The Mexican trademark system follows the first-to-file rule. However, use of a trademark in Mexico prior to the application may be relevant. Trademark applicants are allowed to claim a date of first use in Mexico.

As a rule, a trademark registration is not enforceable against a third party that started using, in Mexico and in bona fide, a trademark identical or confusingly similar to the registered one, to identify the same or similar products or services, if such use started before the filing date in Mexico. Claiming a date of first use in the application creates an exception to the rule.

Further, as a rule, Mexican registered trademarks may be invalidated on grounds of earlier and continuous use, in Mexico or abroad, of an identical or confusingly similar trademark to identify the same or similar goods or services, provided that such use started before the filing date in Mexico and has been continuous[1]. Claiming a date of first use in the application creates an exception to the rule.

The claim of the date of first use in the trademark application does not have consequences before the issuance of the trademark registration. Mexico does not demand use of the trademark to issue the registration and claiming a date of first use would not expedite the examination of the application.

After the issuance of the Mexican trademark registration, if the registrant claimed a date of first use in the application, the resulting registration would be enforceable against a third party using an identical or confusingly similar trademark in Mexico identifying the same or similar goods or services, even if such use started before the filing date in Mexico. Only if the use began before the date of first use stated in the application, then the trademark registration would not be enforceable against said third party.

As I said before, the rule is that a Mexican trademark registration may be invalidated due earlier and continuous use in Mexico or abroad if the use started before the filing date in Mexico. However, as an exception, if the registrant claimed a date of first use in Mexico in the application, then the plaintiff in the invalidation action would have to prove that it started the continuous use in Mexico or abroad before the date of first use stated in the application, instead of the filing date in our country.

Stating a date of first use has an important downside. The Mexican Industrial Property Statute stipulates that a trademark registration may be invalidated if it was issued using false information stated in the application. Although I am not aware of any statistics available, most of the invalidation actions I have filed on grounds of false information in the application, were related to the date of first use stated in the trademark application. The Mexican Patent and Trademark Office and the courts had consistently decided that the plaintiff did not have the burden of proof to demonstrate that the date of first use stated in the application was false; it was the trademark owner who had to demonstrate the truthfulness or accuracy of the date of first use. Considering that affidavits of use have almost no value as evidence in Mexico, proving that the applicant did not lie when stating a date of first use could be very difficult, especially in cases when the date of first use was several years old.

According to the statute of limitations, the vulnerability of a registered trademark against an invalidation action due false information stated in the application has to be filed within a five-year term after the publication of the trademark registration in the Official Gazette.

As you may imagine, stating a date of first use in a trademark application could become a dangerous trap and a potential risk of invalidation.

Some judges did some isolated efforts to moderate the rigor of the cause of invalidation provided in the statute. For example, there was an old isolated precedent from 1990 that provided that the invalidation on grounds of false information stated in the application, namely the date of first use, should only be declared if the plaintiff proves that the trademark owner obtained an unfair advantage from such a date of first use claim or that the first use claim could cause an unfair competition situation. However, other judges not only did not follow the precedent, but most of them affirmed the opposite position.

Things changed recently. On July 2016, a panel of judges issued a binding precedent about the invalidation action on grounds of false information stated in the application[2]. The precedent basically states that, in a cancellation action claiming that the date of first use stated in the trademark application was false, the burden of proof to demonstrate that the date of first use on a trademark application was false is on the plaintiff.

The precedent will dramatically reduce the chances of getting a trademark registration invalidated due a false or inaccurate date of first use; it seems extremely difficult to prove that someone was not using a trademark in the date it stated I the application. Therefore, the plaintiff has to prove that it was materially or legally impossible for the trademark owner to start using the trademark in the date stated in the application. Other than the above, the plaintiff may file evidence suggesting that a date of first sue is false, but not an actual direct proof.

The precedent was not free of controversy, because of the technicalities it implied. A significant number of judges in the panel disagreed, and one of them even prepared a very interesting minority report.

In any case, claiming a date of first use now seems much safer for trademark applicants and owners than it was just a few months ago. The precedent could be fair for trademark owners, but it may also lead to illegitimate claims with dangerous consequences (read my post The relevance of the date of first use in Mexican trademark applications)

One question that remains to be solved is if this precedent may be applied to invalidation cases that started before the publication of the precedent. The Amparo Statute provides that binding precedents from the federal courts of appeals or the Supreme Court may not be retroactive. I think the provision prevents the federal courts of appeals and the Federal Court of Administrative Affairs from using the precedent to decide appeals filed after July 1, 2016. However, I believe the Mexican Patent and Trademark Office may start ruling cases using this new binding precedent, no matter when they were filed.

 

 

[1] It is not required to prove that the plaintiff’s trademark is well-known in Mexico; earlier and continuous use of the mark in any country is enough. The statue of limitations provides that such an invalidation action has to be filed within the third anniversary of publication of the issuance of the Mexican  trademark registration in the Official Gazette.

[2] “NULIDAD DE REGISTRO MARCARIO. CUANDO SE ALEGA LA FALSEDAD DE LA FECHA DEL PRIMER USO DE LA MARCA, CORRESPONDE AL ACTOR LA CARGA DE ACREDITAR LOS HECHOS CONSTITUTIVOS DE SU ACCIÓN”, at Semanario Judicial de la Federación, Volume II, No. 32, July 2016, page 1445. benefit-from-new-binding-ruling-precedent.

Entry filed under: Trademark law. Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , .

Mexico expedites appeals A court opens the door to the Doctrine of Equivalents in Mexico

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed


Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 236 other followers