The EU Intellectual Office warns users of the consequences of illegal sharing of representative usernames and passwords
BACKGROUND IN THE USA
You may have heard of the scandal shaking the IP community in 2021: the USPTO has systematically set up a system to filter and target U.S. legal representatives who share their log-in data with foreign trademark agents.
As a result, in one of the cases, over 8000 potentially fraudulent trademark applications have been suspended. The USPTO held that
“The conduct infected thousands of applications, resulted in false and fraudulent submissions being made to the USPTO, and adversely affected the integrity of the federal trademark registration process.“
The cited case was the epitome of the efforts of the USPTO. Ultimately, the rules of representation have been changes and clarified too. The USPTO has analysed access dates, times, frequency, IP addresses, etc. to arrive to the conclusion that the U.S. trademark applications had been actually filed outside the U.S.
BACKGROUND IN THE EU
The EU faces a similar problem. Apparently, some EUIPO representatives share their log-in credentials with non-EU IP agents for a small fee. This is certainly not allowed, but so far the EUIPO has not invested into any infrastructure to tackle downs this type of usage and has lacked effective measures against such illicit usage. This seems to have started to slowly change since Summer 2021 when the EUIPO took first steps to filter illegal representative accounts and has updated the CONDITIONS OF USE OF THE USER AREA (02/07/2021).
A Summary of the new approach has been also published in the News Section of the EUIPO website. Should the EUIPO recognize, by technical means, the unauthorized sharing of EU representative log-in credentials, the most severe re-actions by the EUIPO would be
– immediate suspension of the EU representative’s account
as a result, neither the foreign IP agent, nor the EU trademark / design representative would have access to the files and would be unable to file new applications until further notice;
– informing the competent national authorities
as a result the EU lawyer could face civil, criminal charges, could be investigated by data protection authorities, fines up to €10 million, his / her Bar Association and could theoretically lose his / her licence to practice law.
We do not know how quick / slow the EUIPO is in this matter, but the legal and technical framework is now set up to filter and sanction the granting of access of lawyer accounts to third parties.