Global IP scenario under COVID-19
We all know about the Covid-19 pandemic that has hit the world like lightning unless you have been living under a giant rock. The scare of it seems to be increasing with every passing day and rightly so because even though doctors and researchers are working day and night, there is no sign of vaccine as of now. There are 2, 77,004 cases as of now out of which 91,986 have recovered and 11,242 have died. India alone has 1,050 cases of which 29 people have died. The coronavirus or COVID 19 is the 7th known coronavirus (other well-known ones include SARS and MERS) and is suddenly has become a part of our conversation everywhere. In case you were wondering – the “technical” name COVID 2019 is simply a short form of Corona Virus Disease 2019. Since everything is being affected by this, the legal field is also getting equally affected. The pandemic has also had a significant impact on the IP world. In order to avoid gatherings of a large number of people at a place, many IP events have been canceled or postponed in past weeks, including the INTA Annual Meeting, the IACC Annual Conference, ICANN’s Mexico meeting, and recently, the MARQUES Spring Meeting.
Countries are also imposing travel bans, economies are being affected. Prime Minister Narendra Modi also addressed the country on 19th March 2020 at 8 P.M. and requested people to maintain a “Janta Curfew” to stop the virus from spreading which is further being followed by a 21-day massive nation-wide lockdown and has also suspended all visas for foreigners until mid-April. In India, only 6 out of 15 Apex Court benches will hear only urgent matters due to coronavirus scare. In a circular issued on March 13, the Supreme Court said that no persons except lawyers concerned will be allowed inside its courtrooms. Another circular issued by the apex court said that in view of the advisory issued by the Government of India, certain precautionary measures are being put in place cautioning against mass gathering(s) to avoid the spread of infection. It is being said that all the cafes and the departmental canteen of the court are being suggested to remain shut until further notice and all the staff members are to make their own arrangements in this regard. It also said that all the members are being suggested to use alcohol-based sanitizer in order to protect themselves from coming into contact with any virus. The Indian Trademark Registry has also suspended all hearings related to trademark matters from 17 March to 15 April. These hearings will be rescheduled "in due course", and any hearing that was to take place after 15 April is still planned to go ahead.
However, India is not the only country taking precautionary measures. China has strictly restricted all its foreign visitors. Other countries in Asia like Japan have banned entry to certain categories of Chinese nationals and non-nationals who have been in Iran, South Korea, or Italy in the past two weeks. Singapore has also stopped visitors from entering and has requested all its citizens, permanent and long-term residents to self-isolate at home for 14 days. Australia and New Zealand have restricted entries to all foreigners. Australia has suggested all its residents who have returned to the country recently that observe a quarantine period of at least two weeks. Canada, the US, and the European Union have also imposed boundary restrictions. The EU has sealed its external borders to anyone coming from outside the bloc for at least 30 days from 18th March. The UK government has urged British citizens not to travel abroad at all unless it's needed.
The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) has released an information notice explaining remedies it has taken in recent days. Some of the vital measures taken by it include the automatic extension of time limits when a national IP office is not open to the public and advising all brand owners to "use electronic communication to mitigate the undesirable impact of possible disruptions in mail or delivery services".
The United States Patent and Trademark Office has announced steps to help users adapt to changing workflows due to the coronavirus outbreak. In an emailed alert, the registry confirmed it will no longer need an original handwritten signature on a number of IP communications. For the time being, the USPTO is discontinuing the requirements of 37 CFR 1.4(e)(1) and (2) which states that an original handwritten signature for certain correspondence with the Office of Enrollment and Discipline (OED) and certain payments by credit card. It follows the USPTO determining the Covid-19 to be an "extraordinary situation" within the meaning of 37 CFR 1.183 for affected patent and trademark owners.
Keeping in view the current scenario, the European Patent Office (EPO) is also adopting preventive measures. It has postponed all its events for the month of March, April, and May. It has also decided to postpone all oral proceedings in examination and opposition proceedings scheduled until 17 April 2020 until further notice, unless, they have already been confirmed to take place via videoconferencing. Along with that Oral proceedings will also not take place within the premises of the Boards of Appeal until 17 April 2020. It has also decided to extend all-time limits expiring on or after 15 March 2020 until 17 April 2020. The Supervisory Board of the European qualifying examination has decided to call off the EQE (pre-examination and main examination papers). Further, the staff of the EPO’s Vienna office has been instructed to work from home and their staff from other offices are being provided the means to work from home
As the virus continues to spreads to more countries around the globe, it would not be wrong to expect that a large number of national IP offices will be introducing measures to offset the impact. For now, trademark professionals are urged to keep an eye on IP office alerts – while COVID-19 is causing chaos at many businesses and law firms, most of the registries are taking conscious steps to help ensure users are as unaffected as possible.