What Is Brexit?

On June 23, 2016, the UK government held a referendum for the electorate to decide whether the United Kingdom should leave or remain in the European Union (EU). The decision to leave won over the decision to stay by 52 percent to 48 percent. On March 29, 2017, the UK government triggered Article 50 of the Treaty of the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU), starting formal negotiations for the UK to leave the EU.

After securing the Withdrawal Agreement governing the “divorce” phase, paving the way for Brexit to become official on January 31, 2020, and thereby opening the “transition period” until December 31, 2020, the EU and the UK are negotiating the “future relationship’” phase. They will have to agree on a free trade agreement–type deal governing the future relationship by the end of the transition period; if they are unable to do so, their relationship will be governed by the general rules of the World Trade Organization.

Beyond being unprecedented (it will be the first time that a Member State will have left the EU), the process of the UK leaving the EU—commonly known as Brexit—is complex at all levels. While the length of the process and the outcome of the EU-UK negotiations still remain unclear, the consequences of Brexit will be far-reaching and will impact the UK, the EU, and their global trading partners in many and possibly unforeseen ways. Companies across all industries and of all sizes, based in or trading with the UK, will be affected in a variety of ways, including in areas related to intellectual property (IP) and corporate brand protection.

How will Brexit affect registration and protection of trademarks, designs, geographical indications, and other IP rights currently harmonized under EU legislation? In particular, what will be the impact of Brexit on the European Union Trade Mark? What will be Brexit’s impact on the UK’s participation and influence in the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) or EUROPOL? What will its effects be on the UK legal profession? How will companies be able to enforce their UK IP rights (IPRs) in the EU and enforce their EU IPRs in the UK after Brexit? How will Brexit affect IP protection in the EU Customs Union? What about injunctions, pending litigation, and the fight against counterfeiting?

Our Position

While many of these questions remain unanswered, we’ve followed developments to ensure that our members worldwide have access to current information on how Brexit could affect them. We also offer guidance to our members as to concrete actions they can take to anticipate these changes and minimize the impact of Brexit on their IPRs. While it is likely that many decisions will be made at a political level by UK and EU authorities, we’ll continue to follow Brexit policy-related issues closely, working directly with the UK Intellectual Property Office, the EUIPO, relevant EU authorities, and as many other stakeholders as possible to ensure that IP and brand-related issues are properly considered during negotiations and beyond.

We’re advocating that both the EU and the UK support, promote, and safeguard the following core principles for brand owners and right holders during the negotiations, as well as when Brexit becomes effective:

  • Minimum disruption of trade
  • Minimum costs
  • Maximum retention of rights
  • Maximum transparency and legal clarity
  • A transitional period in order to adapt to the new rules

Based on these guiding principles, we’ve also developed positions on specific subject matter of interest to brand owners, including on trademarks, enforcement, geographical indications, domain names, exhaustion, and international registrations. To access all of our positions and actions, articles summarizing what is at stake, and key steps to consider, as well as a historic timeline of EU and UK actions and positions since the referendum, click here.

If you want to learn more about Brexit, contact Member Operations.