Out-Law News 2 min. read

Increase in ‘green’ trade mark applications reported

Businesses can obtain a commercial advantage by investing in ‘green’ brands and the registration of associated trade mark rights, a brand protection expert has said.

Désirée Fields of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law, highlighted the opportunity after the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) reported an increase in the volume of applications for EU trade marks it has received in the 25 years it has been operating that concern goods and services related to environmental protection and sustainability.

According to the EUIPO, it received 1,588 applications for the registration of green EU trade marks in 1996 and approaching 16,000 such applications in 2020, with annual growth reported most years in between. Green filings accounted for 11% of all EU trade mark applications last year compared with just 4% of the total applications recorded in 1996. Applications filed by companies in China have contributed to the recent growth in interest in green EU trade marks, the EUIPO said.

In the most recent five year period covered by the study, 2015 to 2020, more than half (52%) of the green EU trade marks applied for related to energy conservation or energy production. An example of the goods and services falling under the category of energy conservation is battery technologies, while solar energy products are an example of the goods and services that come under the umbrella of energy production.

EU trade mark applications for goods and services concerned with pollution control and transportation accounted for a further 18% and 10% of the total recorded by the EUIPO during this period.

The EUIPO said its study “shows that environmental considerations are becoming increasingly important for brand owners filing trade mark applications, and to the consumers who buy the resulting products and services”.

There are specific types of trade marks, namely certification marks, collective marks or guarantee marks, which indicate to consumers that a product complies with certain standards or characteristics

Fields said: “With climate change and environmental issues featuring heavily on the global agenda in politics, business and public debates, consumers increasingly seek to purchase products which are considered to be environmentally friendly and sustainable. Trade marks can play an important part in helping consumers identify that they are purchasing a product that meets these characteristics.”

“On the one hand, there are always ‘traditional’ trade marks which indicate to consumers that a product or service originates from a particular undertaking which, usually through heavy investment in marketing and education of consumers by the brand owner, have come to be recognised as ‘green brands’. Additionally, there are also specific types of trade marks, namely certification marks, collective marks or guarantee marks, which indicate to consumers that a product complies with certain standards or characteristics. For organisation to be able to use one of these ‘green’ certification marks they must comply with certain regulations governing the use of the mark which are set and policed by the certification mark owner,” she said.

Fields cited the example of the certified sustainable seafood certification mark owned by the Marine Stewardship Council. That body broadly requires any certified fishery to operate so that fishing can continue indefinitely and is not overexploiting the resources, and to minimise the environmental impact of its fishing operations so as to maintain the structure, productivity, function and diversity of the ecosystem on which the fishery depends.

“Integrating environmental protection and sustainability into a company’s brand protection strategy can also add financial value as there is a direct correlation between trade mark registrations and a company’s growth and profitability,” Fields said. “With so much focus on these important issues globally, investing in green trade marks can therefore only be an advantage.”

Pinsent Masons’ intellectual property (IP) team is hosting a series of webinars focusing on climate change mitigation and sustainability. The first event is on 21 October and will look at how businesses can leverage IP rights to secure competitive advantage, protect financial investment and generate significant additional revenue streams while helping to build a greener future for everyone. You can register free to join us at the event.

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