§ Dr. Howells
The Silhouette Judgment of the European Court of Justice last July confirmed as a matter of law that the European trade marks Directive does allow trade mark owners to use their rights to prevent import of their goods into the Community after they have been marketed elsewhere.
The Government are keen to ensure that European legislation gives high priority to the interests of consumers, whilst recognising the legitimate interests of producers in securing reasonable protection for their intellectual property. Parallel importing can apply downward pressure on prices in some markets to the advantage of consumers, but producers' investment in innovation and in developing product quality and reputation could be impaired to the detriment of consumers. Price differences in some consumer sectors now indicate that there is a need to consider the effects of the current law, and whether any change would be of benefit.
The effects of trade mark rights and parallel imports vary greatly between market sectors and this would have to be taken into account. In particular, there are sectors where special factors apply, for example where there are material differences between products for different international markets sufficient to lead to consumer confusion or where there is risk to health or safety.
The Government have considered the recent report from the European Commission on the results of a study it has had made into the economic effects of the present trade marks regime, and is pleased that this will be discussed at the next meeting of the Internal Market Council. We are also aware of recent research conducted in Sweden, which indicates net benefits from a change in the law. We will be looking closely at the methodology and results of this Swedish study, and will be analysing the benefits and costs that could accrue to the United Kingdom.