Friday 27 January 2012

The Terrors of Taxonomy

Order in all things -
these are breakfast cereals in class 30
everyone will accept that
The OHIM British Day hosted at the UK IPO yesterday is usually an opportunity both to hear the latest on the office procedures and IT tools and give our feedback on usability. This year it was not. Instead we did find out about several of the Co-Operation fund projects and in particular received a very enthusiastic presentation from Ms. Inge Buffolo. She waxed lyrical in particular about the work that was being done on the classification tools and creating a common database. She is the Project Manager and as an engineer clearly devoted to the idea of putting the entire classification into a neatly ordered structure so no business man need ever say what his goods and services are in his own words ever again.
The aspect that worries me about this is that trademarks are directed at people, ordinary business people who may get sent registration certificates and be told to stop infringing. These are users too. It may well be that the Advocate General in the IP Translator opinion in Case C 307/10 called such users *economic operators* when he said
65. The second objective is to enable economic operators to acquaint themselves, with clarity and precision, with registrations or applications for registration made by their actual or potential competitors, and thus to obtain relevant information about the rights of third parties.
At the coalface of trademark practice it really matters. Recently it was suggested to me that expert evidence would be needed to determine whether a web based application was within the WIPO standard terms in class 42. He meant it. He was confused. Similarly a start up filed its own application by searching software in the OHIM efiling tool and ticking select all. That seems a sensible option when you want to cover software. No, it results in along and chaotic specification and no clarity at all for anyone. However such a specification can be translated at no cost into all official languages. Yes they were a start-up and they were programmers. Since the irresponsible system permits them to protect all manner of software, that's what they wanted but it would have been better had they written just software and overridden the dire warning signs.

The other worrying aspect about this taxonomy is that it is hierarchical and each broad term is supposed to cover all beneath. Does this mean that judges and users are going to have to consult the taxonomy to see what the certificate protects. This flies in the face of good sense however accessible the taxonomy may be.

Acceptable indications are good and work great for breakfast cereals but we must not get carried away into thinking that all goods and services are best described by reference to remote and abstract terms that mean little to the ordinary person.

Fortunately Richard Ashmead was present and in good health.

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