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Cecilia Wikström: Guiding European Trademark Reform
In March of this year, the European Commission unveiled the highly anticipated proposed revisions for the Community Trade Mark Regulation (CTMR), which governs the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (OHIM) and the CTM, and the Trade Marks Directive (TMD), which provides guidance for EU Member States’ trademark laws. The Commission aims to lower costs, create greater predictability and to ensure improved cooperation between OHIM and the national offices.
Leading this legislative process is Cecilia Wikström, a Member of European Parliament (MEP) and the Rapporteur in charge of negotiating the proposed revisions. Ms. Wikstrom recently participated in INTA’s Government Relations Meeting in Alicante, hosted by OHIM, where she discussed some of her proposed amendments to the Commission’s draft, among other issues.
Far from the average politician, Ms. Wikstrom is a theology graduate, and considers herself first and foremost a priest in the Church of Sweden, as well an actor, an author and an MEP. Below, Ms. Wikström shares with the INTA Bulletin her thoughts on the trademark proposals, her journey into European politics and the changing perception of IP in Europe.
How did you come to work in politics, considering your background is in theology?
It was the end of the 1990s and I was serving as a canon in the Uppsala Cathedral [of the Lutheran Church of Sweden]. I was coming across so many issues that really shocked me. For example, I saw that elderly people were being treated very badly. Sweden was in a bad economic situation at the time, and people were simply dying alone. This was horrifying to me, and I made a public statement that, just as no one is born alone, no one should die alone. That statement brought me some fame in Sweden, and, shortly after, my political party [the Liberal People’s Party] called and asked if I’d want to run for the national Parliament, so I said “sure.” That’s how it began. However, I still consider myself a priest—right now I am just being used to serve democracy.
Has your work as a priest helped you in your political career?
Being a priest is all about listening, and that is true for politics as well—you should listen twice as much as you talk. Also, the Christian faith is about hope, and I believe that good politics is necessary for a society to have hope.
What made you move from Swedish politics to European politics?
In the 1990s I was a priest in a small rural area, and people were fleeing Kosovo during the Yugoslav Wars. I guided them to shelters, and there was one young man who held up a sign stating that he was a refugee because of ethnic cleansing. This was decades after the Holocaust, when we were supposed to be beyond such things. I still shiver today telling you the story. I think that was a defining moment for me, when I became passionate about Europe and I felt that I must do everything possible to make the EU spirit strong and to put aside borders. That night was crucial for me, and a big part of why I ran for the European Parliament in 2009.
And how did you come to be interested in intellectual property?
Every EU Member State has a profound connection to the right to property going back to the French Revolution. So there is a historical background there, but I have also always had a passion for writing, theater and literature [Ms. Wikström is the author of two books and has performed two plays]. I also served on the Committee of Cultural Affairs in the Swedish Parliament, and I knew that IP was crucial to those industries.
How did you come to be appointed Rapporteur for the CTMR and the TMD?
Well, the EU Patent Proposal was negotiated for four decades, and my party [the Alliance for Liberals and Democrats in Europe (ALDE)] was always caught in the middle during those negotiations. I worked as a shadow rapporteur on the patent proposal, and I proposed many amendments that were rejected by the other parties. However, during the negotiations, almost all of my amendments were adopted by the Member States. So I was the big winner there, and I agreed to work with the other parties on adopting parts of their proposals if they promised to support me for Rapporteur on the CTMR and TMD.
So what is your role as Rapporteur, and the role of the European Parliament overall, in the EU lawmaking process?
The European Commission drafts and proposes legislation, and then the Parliament and the Rapporteur take the lead on amending and negotiating it. I work with the Commission and the European Council [comprising the 28 EU Member States] to establish the position of the European Parliament. The next step in the CTMR and TMD process is for the so-called shadow rapporteurs to react to my recent report on the Commission’s proposals, and then I will work with my colleagues to negotiate draft legislation.
In this case it’s going to be very difficult, because I have to strike the right balance between promoting growth and prosperity and ensuring consumer protections.
What will happen if the difficulties aren’t resolved before elections next May?
If the proposal is not adopted, it will create all kinds of problems. There will be a new Commission and we will lose the momentum entirely. What I’m trying to do is to come to a first reading agreement, this way there will be something for the new Parliament to work from and continue with. It’s feasible. My report was finished within two months, so now it’s up to my colleagues to amend it. We are determined to get it done, but if the Member States drag their feet, they’ll slow the process down entirely. I intend to push them though. It’s still possible to reach our goal of having it wrapped up by December.
Do you plan to run for re-election?
Yes, I am running, but it will be up to Sweden to re-elect me.
Do you think that anti-IP sentiment in Parliament plays any role in delaying IP legislation?
There isn’t much anti-IP sentiment now; there was during the days of the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA), which taught us that we need to be very careful about how to propose these things. The Commission made every mistake possible, so it ended up being a huge failure. But I have seen a shift with MEPs in recent years. I think people realize there needs to be more regulation now.
Europe is perceived by the U.S. as a safe haven for piracy, but out of 754 members, only two are from the Pirate Party. So the issue is not the Pirates, but how the mainstream parties approach the issues. We need to make sure that those rumors that emerged from the days of ACTA regarding restricted access to medicines, for instance, do not resurface. This is why I’m very keen on striking the right balance on the trademarks package. I don’t want to reopen the ACTA debate.
The topic of goods in transit, for example, is very controversial. There is a concern that this provision will allow generic medicines to be detained en route between third countries. I do not want to reopen this issue; I want to safeguard it by adding language specifically exempting generic medicines in order to satisfy all stakeholders. I am being very careful to straighten out all of these questions so we do not reignite that debate.
Do you think IP will factor into the European elections?
Yes, I think so, especially in areas related to Internet freedom and trade. The Greens and the Pirates will certainly raise those issues.
You recently spoke at INTA’s Government Relations Meeting in Alicante via videoconference from Brussels. Can you explain why you participated, and what you learned?
It’s very important to have these kinds of meetings, and I admire the participants, who raised all of the right questions. It’s important to focus on how IP rights can make the most of new technology and help us to develop, but it’s always important to discuss the issues and to speak with knowledgeable people. I am a humble Member of the EU Parliament, so I need all the help I can get. Sometimes I regret that I’m not a patent or a trademark lawyer, but then again, the citizens are not IP lawyers, and my role is to represent them. Members of the IP community have been very, very helpful to me, and they have never once rejected my request for a meeting.
The provisions in the trademark package cover many areas. What would you say are your top three priorities?
Goods in transit is one, of course. The good governance of OHIM and ensuring voluntary cooperation between OHIM and the national offices are both important as well. It’s very complicated—we are 28 Member States and not all equally equipped. We need to establish areas of solidarity.
It is important to understand that this legislation is not revolutionary—it is a needed modernization. I simply want to add a drop of oil to the machine.
Read INTA’s comments on the Commission’s trademark proposals here.
Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of items in the INTA Bulletin, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest.
Published with the permission of © 2013 International Trademark Association