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A community trademark, also known as a community trade mark or CTM, is a trademark that is valid and enforceable in any of the European Union’s member states. Each member state has its own trademark office and its own trademark laws, and trademark owners can and often do register their trademarks with a specific country. A national trademark gives trademark owners exclusive rights to use their marks within a specific country’s borders. A community trademark, by contrast, is registered not with a national trademark office, but with a larger European Union trademark body. Community trademarks carry with them rights to exclusive use throughout the entire union.
In Europe, business is frequently done across national borders, and brands sold in one country are usually also sold in others nearby. One of the primary benefits of trademark ownership is the ability to signal to consumers the origin of goods and services. Trademark owners have traditionally had to register their trademarks with each European country’s trademark office in order to use their trademark uniformly across the continent. The community trademark changes this requirement with respect to the countries that are members of the European Union. Community trademarks allow trademark owners to effectively receive multiple national registrations with just one application, and for this reason are sometimes referred to as "EU trademarks."
Community trademarks were authorized by a 1993 European Union directive — EC Reg. (EC) 40/94 (1993) — and the first community trademarks were issued in 1996. Of course, trademarks existed at the national level in Europe for many years before that. The very nature of trademarks is exclusivity, which means that no one can register a community trademark if the same trademark already exists at the national level. Even one national registration for a trademark in one European Union country can bar a community trademark application for the same mark.
Community trademarks are granted through the European Union’s Office of Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM), whose officers consider prior registrations and objections from existing trademark owners before approving or rejecting applications. Applications can be sent directly to the OHIM, which is located in Spain, or submitted to any national trademark office for forwarding to the OHIM. Wherever submitted, community trademark applications must follow a set form, including filings in two languages. The first language can be any official language of the European Union; the second must be one of the OHIM’s five official languages.
A rejection from the OHIM does not necessarily mean that a trademark cannot be used in the European Union. A community trademark application can be converted into a national trademark application in any member state. Conversion requires the applicant to make an individual filing with each national office where registration is sought, which usually involves the payment of a separate filing fee.
If granted, a community trademark carries a lifespan of 10 years, and is renewable. Applicants need not be European to register or get a community trademark. Many nationally recognizable trademarks, including many familiar brands in both the US and Canada, have been awarded community trademark status.