HC Deb 27 June 2002 vol 387 cc991-2W
Mr. Waterson

To ask the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry if she will make a statement on the implications for United Kingdom domestic law of the decision of the European Court of Justice in Koninklijke Philipsv. Remington. [64494]

Ms Hewitt

In its judgment of 18 June in the Koninklijke Philips v. Remington case, the European Court of Justice concluded that the Trade Marks Directive (implemented in the UK by the Trade Marks Act 1994) could not be used to protect product characteristics or technical features.

The European Court of Justice's decision is broadly consistent with the submissions of the Government and largely confirms existing UK practice.

Innovation of a technical or functional nature is protectable by patents. The maximum duration of a patent is 20 years (trade mark rights can be renewed without limit), after which inventions pass into the public domain for anyone to use or develop. This period of 20 years, which accords with international norms, represents a balance between encouraging inventors to develop new products by preventing others from using their inventions for a limited time, and encouraging competition by publishing full details of patented inventions so that they may be widely used when rights expire.

On the other hand, trade marks indicate the trade origin of goods. Allowing trade mark registrations to confer on proprietors an open-ended right to product characteristics or technical features would upset the balance created by the patent law.