The forgettably named ‘Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market’ registers Community Trade Marks. So how has it managed to amass a cash surplus estimated to reach €375 million by 2010? Stephen Groom reveals this folly and what’s to be done.
Who: the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market ("OHIM") and the European Commission
When: December 2006
The European Commission announced that over the ten years it had been operating, the European body that handles the registration of Community Trade Marks and design registrations ("OHIM") had built up cumulative cash reserves of no less than €130 million.
What was more, if things stayed as they were, OHIM was on course to amass reserves of more than €375 million by the end of 2010.
However things were definitely not going to stay as they were.
The EC said that OHIM had shown itself to be keenly aware of the need to offer value for money and was now to some extent a victim of its own success (although "victim" seems an odd word to use for any entity sitting on €130 million it doesn't know what to do with ).
Major factors contributing to the current embarrassment of riches included the unexpected popularity of CTM registrations and the cost savings achieved by the introduction of online filing in 2002.
Going forward, the plan was to address the problem by introducing a programme of staged reductions in the fees charged by OHIM (not in itself a solution of course). The cashpile would also be used to finance various service improvements such as streamlining and speeding up the processing of CTM applications and working towards "greater clarity, consistency and completeness of decisions taken."
Detailed proposals will be submitted for consideration in spring 2007.
Why this matters:
Clearly someone has seriously miscalculated the fee levels required to finance a system that has proved immensely popular. It is also troubling that the Commission has taken so long to "fess up" and put forward solutions to a state of affairs that has clearly not come about overnight.
Nevertheless it is perhaps a case of better late than never, although it seems unlikely we will see rebates paid to those who have clearly been overpaying for many years for their trade mark and design registrations, or new CTM applicants enjoying the novel experience of OHIM paying them to file their trade mark applications.