The current law on the protection of Industrial Property (Law No. 17-97) concerning trademarks, patents of invention, topographies of integrated circuits, industrial designs and models, and geographical indications and appellations of origin has recently been amended in order to comply with the Intellectual Property Provisions of the US-Morocco Free Trade Agreement dated March 8, 2004 and which entered into force on January 1, 2006. The amended law (No. 31-05) will be implemented in Morocco during the months to come once the related regulations are published.
The principal features of the new law include the following:
1. The definition of a trademark has been broadened to include sound marks and figurative marks which are capable of distinguishing the goods or services of one enterprise from those of other enterprises.
2. Trademark applications are subject to opposition within two months from the date of publication.
3. Any violation of rights acquired by the registrant of an earlier trademark can be prosecuted ex-officio by the Public Minister, without complaint by the rights’ holder or the aggrieved party. The rights’ holder has, in principle, the choice to opt either for civil or criminal proceedings in case of infringement.
4. The new law makes strides towards office automation and greater use of electronic means for the registration and maintenance of trademarks, as well as the establishment of an accessible trademark database.
Geographical Indications and Appellations of Origin
1. A trademark that is liable to create confusion with a geographical indication or an appellation of origin duly protected cannot be registered. Likewise, the protection or recognition of a geographical indication or an appellation of origin that is confusingly similar to a previously used, applied for, or registered trademark is prohibited.
2. Geographical indications and appellations of origin are registered in a separate Register kept by the Trademark Office and are subject to opposition.
Patents of Invention
1. Patent extensions are provided to compensate for unreasonable delays that occur in granting the patent. Unreasonable delays include the issuance of the patent more than four years from the date of filing of the corresponding application.
2. With respect to any pharmaceutical product that is subject to a patent, an extension of the patent term is available in order to compensate the patent owner for unreasonable reduction of the effective patent term as a result of the marketing approval process.
Another significant aspect of law No. 31-05 is the introduction of new border measures for Customs authorities, as summarized below:
– The customs authorities can suspend entry into Morocco of alleged counterfeit products bearing identical or similar trademarks at the request of the owner of a registered trademark or its exclusive licensee.
– The request for suspension is valid for a year and should be supported by adequate information and evidence that the registered rights were violated and the imported goods are counterfeit.
– Legal proceedings should be instituted by the right holder within a delay of ten days as from the date of suspension by Customs; otherwise, the seizure measures will be lifted.
– Customs are allowed to provide the trademark owner with available information on the source of export and the importer of the fake goods.
– Customs authorities are also entitled to suspend ex-officio products which are suspected of being counterfeit and to inform immediately the right holder and the importer.
– If the suspended goods are declared counterfeit by a final Court decision, they would be destroyed. Otherwise, the importer would be allowed to claim for damages and compensation.
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