The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has released a report outlining statistics regarding patents, trade marks, designs, and hearings for 2022. The data shows an increase in patent applications during the period 2021-2022, while trade mark and design applications experienced a decline.
Patent applications and publications increase
The data highlights a 3.4% increase in patent applications, to 19,486 overall, with a slight (0.6%) rise in domestic applications and a notable 23% increase in Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) applications. Following a recent trend of declining patent applications through the period of the COVID-19 pandemic, this upturn is consistent with other major patent applicant countries such as France, Germany, and Japan. Moreover, while patent publications climbed by 4.3% to 11,790, there was a 2.9% decrease in patent grants, to 10,578. Despite this decline, the number was still the second highest annual number of patent grants the IPO has ever observed. The IPO has outlined that this is due to an internal initiative to reduce the backlog of patent cases under examination. It will be interesting to see whether this pattern continues.
Decline in trade mark applications and registrations
In contrast to the record-high number of applications witnessed in 2021, trade mark applications saw a 19.2% decrease in 2022, to 158,821. Furthermore, the number of trade mark registrations declined by 3.5%, to 163,104. This downward trend can be attributed to a steadying of application numbers following the surge caused by the UK’s departure from the European Union. This is the first year that the IPO has seen a higher number of registrations than applications, as a result of processing the backlog of applications from the previous year’s surge. China and the USA led with the highest numbers of non-UK based applications, however, both saw a significant decrease compared to 2021.
More trade mark oppositions filed
The IPO also plays a role in the resolution of intellectual property disputes by conducting hearings and overseeing tribunals, with trade marks constituting a majority of hearing activities. There was a substantial rise in trade mark oppositions filed, increasing from 8,080 in 2021 to 8,827 in 2022.
Rise in design registrations and decrease in applications
There has been a dramatic 1114.9% increase in design applications between 2015 and 2021. Although there was a 6.7% dip in design applications from 2021 to 2022, to 67,315, a substantial 16.9% increase in design registrations was recorded, to 70,098. Similar to trade marks, a decline in international applications was noted.
The IPO’s comprehensive report for 2022 offers valuable insights into the dynamic trends of patent, trade mark, design, and hearing activities. The IP landscape has experienced a lot of change due to Brexit and the COVID-19 pandemic, the effects of which we are still seeing, with the initial surge and now decline of trade mark and design applications, and the increase in patent applications after the decrease due to the pandemic. The IPO’s new initiative to reduce the backlog of cases is also showing a notable improvement in the amount of grants and registrations, and it will be interesting to see how these trends develop.
The recent decision T 1634/17 confirms the strict approach taken by the EPO when considering whether an oral presentation anticipates a subsequently filed patent application, and the high burden of proof on an opponent in EPO opposition proceedings who is seeking to invalidate a patent on the basis of such an oral disclosure.
European patent no. 2550363 was granted to Regeneron Pharmaceuticals Inc, with claims relating to a protein ADAM6 and its role in fertility in male mice. The patent was opposed by Kymab, and at first instance the Opposition Division (OD) agreed with Kymab that the claims as granted lacked inventive step based on a presentation given by one of the inventors, Dr Murphy, more than a year before the earliest priority date of the patent. The key documents provided by Kymab as evidence of the presentation were document 11 (D11), and a related document referred to as D11’.
D11 was a set of PowerPoint slides said by Dr Murphy to have been shown during the presentation. Dr Murphy acknowledged that neither hard copies nor electronic copies of the slides were distributed at the presentation. The OD held that D11 was not state of the art because it was not “finally proven beyond reasonable doubt” that the set of slides filed as D11 was the actual set of slides shown at the presentation given by Dr Murphy.
D11’ was a summary of what was said to have been learned from the presentation, compiled by Professor Allan Bradley, founder of Kymab and an attendee at the presentation. Professor Bradley circulated the summary amongst his colleagues a few days after the presentation. The OD held that D11’ contained “features of D11 which had been proven to be publicly disclosed” and thus could form state of the art relevant to novelty and/or inventive step.
Regeneron submitted in appeal proceedings that the OD was incorrect in its assessment of what had been disclosed, and that neither D11 or D11’ should form state of the art. The Board of Appeal agreed, considering in particular that the relevant question was what was conveyed to the public, not just what was presented or shown.
The Board agreed with the OD that D11 was not state of the art, referring to the earlier decision T 1212/97, which states that a lecture cannot be evidenced by the lecturer alone, as they hold a different position to a member of the audience. The Board noted that according to Dr Murphy the 58 slides reproduced in D11 had been shown in less than an hour, and the Board commented that the manner or speed of presentation may affect the comprehensibility of a lecture and the amount of material/information covered by the lecture may be another factor to affect said comprehensibility.
Upon considering the evidence on file, including a number of declarations from other attendees of the presentation, the Board also held that D11’, or any other documents on file, did not convincingly show beyond reasonable doubt what was actually disclosed because they were not contemporary written notes taken during Dr Murphy’s presentation. For example, it was noted that D11’ had been produced after several subsequent conversations, discussions and meetings between Professor Bradley, Dr Murphy, and/or other attendees of the presentation, and thus it could not be ruled out that it may have contained additional information beyond that actually conveyed by Dr Murphy during the presentation itself.
As D11’ was not contemporaneous evidence of what Dr Murphy’s presentation disclosed to the public, and the slides of D11 were also not considered state of the art, neither of these documents could be taken into account for the assessment of novelty and/or inventive step of the claim requests. The Board overturned the decision of the OD, the opposition was rejected, and the patent upheld as granted.
This decision is a useful reminder of the high standard that the EPO requires to be met in order to establish what was actually disclosed in an oral presentation. Evidence from the presenter alone is unlikely to be enough, and supporting evidence from attendees may need to include contemporary notes actually taken by the attendees during the presentation.
Twitter has recently announced its decision to undergo a complete rebranding, changing its name to ‘X’ and abandoning the iconic blue bird that has been associated with the brand for years. This approach comes in a rapidly changing digital world in which companies are always under pressure to reinvent themselves. While rebranding may be a smart step for staying current and establishing a brand’s identity, it also has inherent risks, particularly when historic trade marks are abandoned.
The power of iconic trade marks
Twitter’s iconic blue bird logo and its name hold immense power in the consumer psyche. Twitter has grown to become one of the most important platforms for real-time information, communication, and social networking, as well as people incorporating Twitter language into their everyday vocabulary and using it as a verb ‘tweeting.’ By deciding to rebrand and abandon the original mark, Twitter runs the risk of losing its hard-earned brand equity and recognition. Twitter risks losing that instant association by switching to ‘X’ and it may find it difficult to preserve its identity in the minds of users.
Trade mark dilution and public perception
Twitter has developed a significant global user base over the years, and the company’s choice to abandon its distinctive mark may open a legal Pandora’s box. Trade marks are essential assets for any company, safeguarding its unique identity and preventing unauthorised use by competitors. By abandoning its well-known mark, Twitter exposes itself to possible trade mark dilution due to changes and actions taken by the company which can lead to a loss of recognition and identification among consumers. With this, the brand’s value and uniqueness may be eroded or muddled over time and diluting the strong recognition people may have with the brand.
A rebranding can be successful when it can really capture the essence of the new brand and resonate with consumers, and Twitter’s rebrand implies a fresh start and an opportunity to redefine its image. This strategic shift indicates not just the company’s desire to attract a larger user base, but also its willingness to adapt to changing trends and user preferences. The difficulty here is to ensure that the new identity meets consumer expectations while keeping components of the previous brand’s familiarity.
Trade mark challenges
‘X’ is widely used across several industries and Twitter may face legal challenges from companies that already have rights to the letter ‘X’; Twitter could have issues in defending the ‘X’ brand name in the future. The new name’s single-letter nature presents a unique problem. Single-letter trade marks, while possibly distinctive and bold, face inherent limitations in the scope of protection they can offer.
Obtaining trade mark rights, especially at a global scale, necessitates extensive clearance searching to avoid conflict and make sure the new name is available for use and registration as a trade mark, especially in this case as the single letter ‘X’ mark has been used across various industries, from technology to entertainment, and is very popular commercially which increases the risk of potential conflicts. There are also registrations obtained by companies that operate in similar industries to Elon Musk’s X Corp, such as Microsoft and Meta.
While the rebranding provides a new beginning, Twitter must also ensure that the new identity, ‘X’, stands out in the crowded digital marketplace. Distinctiveness is a key component of trade mark protection since it prevents confusion and dilution of a brand’s image. The challenge is to keep this distinctiveness while navigating the sea of existing ‘X’ trade marks. It is this sea of existing trade marks and complexity which highlight and necessitate the importance of trade mark searches and the downfalls of adopting a mark without carrying out appropriate checks.
Twitter’s original trade marks, including the phrase “Twitter” and its famous bird emblem, are well-protected and have a strong brand identity and reputation associated with them. This is due to their long history of use, global recognition, and distinctiveness. These trade marks demonstrate the need of not only obtaining protection but also consistently upholding the brand’s image to avoid dilution.
While rebranding can be a crucial step for businesses wanting to adapt to changing market dynamics in order to remain relevant, it is not without risks. Twitter’s plan to change its name to ‘X’ is undeniably a high-stakes gamble that could either redefine the company’s future or jeopardise its hard-earned brand value. Confusion, loss of identity, legal problems, reputation risks, and eventual dilution of brand value are among the risks of abandoning iconic trade marks.
The success of Twitter’s rebranding will be determined by how successfully the company communicates the rationale for the move, their ongoing goodwill, how it addresses any legal issues, and how well it maintains a smooth transition for users. Only time will tell whether ‘X’ can emerge as a stronger, more resilient brand.
The UK Government is fulfilling its commitment to lead the way in nuclear technologies, with the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (DESNZ) declaring the establishment of Great British Nuclear (GBN).
GBN to act as the driving force for the UK’s nuclear power promises
GBN will be dedicated to accelerating the expansion of the UK’s nuclear power, which will in turn diminish reliance on unpredictable fossil fuel imports, enhance energy security, and provide more cost-effective power solutions. It is projected that the nuclear industry will add approximately £6 billion to the UK economy.
The government has ambitions to generate up to 25% of the UK’s electricity through domestically produced nuclear energy by 2050, aiming to secure one of the most affordable wholesale electricity rates in Europe. Furthermore, this initiative will contribute to job creation across the country.
The UK Government also reinforced its commitment to nuclear power mega projects, highlighting that GBN will be working with Hinkley Point C and Sizewell C to assess the prospective contribution of additional large gigawatt-scale nuclear power plants in the UK’s energy portfolio.
Small modular reactor (SMR) competition kickstarted
Alongside the launch of GBN, the UK Government has launched an SMR competition, which will give those who enter the chance to obtain funding for their products. As SMRs are smaller than conventional reactors, they can be created in factories which may lead to the transformation of power stations, as the construction process will be more cost-effective and speedier.
GBN will evaluate the technologies submitted to the competition and will then engage in comprehensive discussions with the companies that meet the criteria as part of an ‘Invitation to Negotiate’ phase. The final selection will take place in the third quarter of this year.
Grant funding package of up to £157 million announced
In addition to the launch of GBR and the SMR technology competition, the UK Government announced various funding initiatives related to boosting the UK’s nuclear industry.
£77.1 million has been pledged towards funding advanced nuclear business development in the UK, as well as to aid with entering advanced nuclear designs in the UK’s regulation.
A further £58 million has been allocated towards the development and design of an advanced modular reactor (AMR) and next generation fuel. AMRs, which operate at higher temperatures than SMRs, have the potential to supply high temperature heat for hydrogen production and other industrial applications in addition to nuclear power. Funding towards the winning projects included £22.5 million to Ultra Safe Nuclear Corporation UK based in Warrington, £15 million to National Nuclear laboratory in Warrington, and £16 million to National Nuclear Laboratory in Preston.
The Nuclear Fuel Fund will be providing £22.3 million to fuel eight projects, with Westinghouse Springfields nuclear fuel plant in Preston, Urenco UK in Capenhurst Chester, Nuclear Transport Solutions, and MoltexDLEX receiving funding.
The establishment of GBN and the grant funding package heralds a transformative phase for nuclear development in the UK, facilitating a rapid and substantial program to bolster the UK’s energy security, generate employment opportunities nationwide, and accelerate progress towards a net-zero future. The focus on SMR technology as well as nuclear power mega projects is expected to lead to the UK Government making major investments in both the public and private sectors, resulting in significant economic development.
With two locations in Hertfordshire, Fabio’s Gelato is a family-owned gelato producer and dessert parlour. On 2 May 2023, Fabio’s Gelato posted an announcement of a new gelato flavour, ‘Perky Pig’, coming to its Letchworth parlour. Marks & Spencer (M&S) caught wind of this quickly and sent a letter, dated 5 May 2023, addressing the potentially infringing name of the new flavour.
‘Percy Pig’ – a hero brand
The letter politely explains that ‘Percy Pig’ is one of M&S’s hero brands and they own registered trade marks to protect it. M&S asked Fabio’s Gelato to change the name of the ice cream within 14 days of receiving the letter to resolve the matter “amicably” whilst even suggesting a few potential alternatives. However, M&S also made it clear that it was happy for Fabio’s Gelato to continue using the famous sweets to top the ice cream. Fabio’s Gelato took to social media to share the letter, along with a bag of ‘Percy Pig’ sweets that M&S had sent to “sweeten the deal.”
Rebrand to ‘Notorious P.I.G‘
Provisionally renamed as ‘Fabio’s Pig’, the news gave Fabio’s Gelato so much media exposure that it was decided to host a competition for its Facebook followers to come up with a new name, promising a Fabio’s voucher for the winner. With over 100 entries, the winning name was ‘Notorious P.I.G.’
Small businesses and trade mark infringement
The swift response highlights how important the ‘Percy Pig’ brand is to M&S, acting within three days to prevent any potential brand dilution. However, the way M&S dealt with the situation has received praise, showing an understanding that a smaller business may simply not be aware that their products could infringe other brands’ intellectual property rights.
M&S has shown that matters of trade mark infringement can be solved quickly and amiably between the parties involved. There are benefits of a gentler approach and methods of dispute resolution available to maintain everyone’s best interests. It has even resulted in some good publicity for both parties, showing that a positive approach can result in the best outcome all round.
As for the new ‘Notorious P.I.G.’ ice cream – Fabio’s Gelato is“frantically making more!”
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