QUITE A FEW BULGARIAN TRADE MARKS CHANGE CITIZENSHIP
Bulgaria's willingness to join the European Union (EU) with reserved exclusive rights on the brand names of brandy and mastic brandy may have touched local people's pride. However, it looks a little exaggerated to wish that the EU acknowledge these two names as drinks produced in Bulgaria only. Slovenia and Romania have requested to be allowed to their own brandy names, too. Experts are firm that despite its earlier integration to the EU, Slovenia is not going to be privileged and will not be able to register the drink as its own product. Most probably, the arguable name will not be given to any of the applying countries, so producers will have to register their brandies according to the geographic areas - for example, Troyan plum-brandy, Carnobat grape-brandy, etc. An alternative for Bulgaria is to win the brandy name in Cyrillic alphabet, which it is entitled to use even without registration. Because in 2007 Bulgaria will be the only country in the EU which uses an alphabet different from the Latin one.This story may appear a timely reminder to Bulgarian businesses which are still too negligent about the perspective protection of traditional Bulgarian products abroad. However, debates on the brandy name brought in some confusion. This specific case does not refer to a trade mark but to the registration of an origin denomination. According to the Law on Brands and Geographic Symbols, these symbols are divided in two groups - geographic and origin denominations. The geographic denomination is the more narrow of the two - it refers to goods which quality or fame is due to the fact that they are produced in a certain country or region - like the mineral waters, for example. The origin denomination implicates that a product is unique due to the combination of human and natural factors - like the Bulgarian yoghurt. This is how Bulgaria wants to register its brandy, too. However, most experts are convinced that the drink will not be acknowledged as unique, since its production technology is known abroad, as well. There is also another obstacle - this name has become a generic term for commodities of a given type which does not reflect the place where they are produced. That is why it cannot be registered as a geographic denomination. This is what the Bulgarian legislation says, but it does not differ from the European principles. Analogically, sparkling wine is a generic term, but champagne is only the wine produced in the French region with the same name. So, it sounds more logical to request the registration of a Bulgarian brandy. Like the requests on the part of the Ministry of Agriculture for registration of the Bulgarian brined cheese as a unique origin denomination.In 2001, Bulgaria presented a list of 20 goods to the European Commission for which it requested protection. The list is based on the origin denominations registered by the Bulgarian Patent Office. The same protection has also been requested for 200 wines and alcohol drinks. The names registered in Bulgaria should then be shortly acknowledged in Europe by being written in the EU register.The list does not look comprehensive - it does not include traditional products that are specific for Bulgaria, although not associated with a concrete region. That's why they have no national registration. The initiative for registration in Brussels does not come from the government alone. After the country joins the EU, producers from a given region may join forces and register a unique product in the EU, if it is not included in the list. However, they will not be able to rely on official acknowledgement of the geographic denominations, and will have to pass through the whole procedure. For example, a department is soon to be opened at the Integration Policy Directorate in the Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry. It will act as a national body for registration of geographic denominations of food and drinks. It will collect evidence for the unique qualities of the product, and then will wait for six months for possible objections from other producers in the EU. Even myths and legends will be accepted as evidence that the production of a commodity has a long tradition.This is exactly what the advertisement of the new Yoghurt brand relied on. Curiously, such a brand has been registered neither in the Bulgarian Patent Office nor in the EU, according to the website of the Domestic Market Harmonization Office which registers the European brands.In the end of 2003 it became clear that even 40 years later the Bulgarian yoghurt has a chance to get protection from the EU. The optimism comes due to a directive which the European Commission is currently preparing on the qualities of the Bulgarian yoghurt. This directive will acknowledge as yoghurt the milk produced from living bacteria and will classify the other milk products as fermented. At the same time, considering information from the harmonisation office, the Bulgarian state-owned LB Bulgaricum company is the owner of the brand with the same name which refers to living bacteria, Bulgarian yoghurt and dairy products. The Association of Dairy Processors and LB Bulgaricum AD (the state-owned company which owns the rights on the Bulgarian bacteria) asked the government to take measures for international protection not just of the Bulgarian yoghurt but also of the brined cheese and yellow cheese. The request itself sounded a little strange, since last year the Ministry of Economy declared that at least the brined cheese was protected as a Bulgarian denomination. However, a Belgian company and a German citizen have managed to register trade-marks (not geographic denominations) on their behalf. In 1998, Haritun Sarik who lived in Germany registered the Bulgarian brined cheese as figurative mark entitled BULGARA KAESE IN SALZLAKE NACH BULGARISCHER ART. He also imitated the well-known tin-box successfully. The story made a stir last summer when milk producers complained that the German company with a Turkish owner, Savik, had registered the Bulgarian brined cheese as its own product. The producers association then said it hired patent experts to prove that Bulgarian brined cheese is well-known, so it could not be owned by Turks or Germans. A very similar brand, but in Belgium, was registered in 2000 by the anonymous Ilhan San company. The name of the brand is NEFIS FACON BULGARE BULGARISCHER ART. Ilhan San is also the owner of the brand of Bulgarka yellow cheese (KASHKAVAL BUELGARKA Netis), registered in 2001.Unfortunately, there are not so many Bulgarian companies that have managed to register brands in the European Union. Among the most stubborn are Balkanpharma and Domaine Boyar. In 2002, the pharmaceutical holding registered its name as a figurative mark, but failed to register the medicines it produced. The Almagel brand has been withdrawn after an attempt was made for its registration in 2001 (two years earlier, the Spanish ALMIRALL-PRODESFARMA failed to register the same brand). The request for registration of Feloran has been withdrawn, too.In turn, Domaine Boyar has registered three trade-marks on its behalf, one has been disputed (Blueridge), and other two have been withdrawn. In fact, however, only one is entirely owned by the company - DOMAINE BOYAR PREMIUM OAK. The other two have been curiously shared with the British Boyar International Limited which controls a minority stake in the Sofia-based joint-stock company. The Bulgarian company also owns the figurative marks DOMAINE BOYAR and BOYAR, while the oral ones, DOMAINE BOYAR and BOYAR ESTATES are owned by Boyar International. The British company also holds the Blueridge brand.As far as the RUEN sports clothing trade-mark is concerned, it is registered on behalf of RUEN KLOZE, INC., San Diego. Other brands known in Bulgaria may have similar fate, too.Among the Bulgarian companies that managed to get European acknowledgement are also the insurer Bulgarian Estates and the bankrupt Rila Solutions. Curiously, the list does not include mobile operators, airlines, or Bulgartabac, for example. Still, last year Lufthansa registered the balkanwings brand, and the tobacco concern Galaghar owns the Bolkan Sobranie cigarette brand which probably targets the local area. As to requests made by Bulgarian companies for brand registration, there are hundreds of them, including from Kamenitza, Storko, Promet Steel, INTERNET sites, etc.