The General Court has recently confirmed a refusal to register the verbal sign “Sustainability through Quality” as a trade mark, saying that people would consider it to be a promotional phrase, because of its intrinsic meaning, rather than an indication of commercial origin.  This comes against the backdrop of an interesting study by the EU Intellectual Property Office about "green" trade marks. 

It aims to examine whether the increased concern among the public and policymakers about climate change and environmental degradation is reflected in EU trade mark applications and updates a similar study from 2021.

The study says that 18,726 green EU trade marks were filed at EUIPO in 2021, an all-time high (and contrasts with 1,588 in 1996, the first year of the study). In addition, the share of green EUTMs in overall EUTM filings increased to 12%.

The study also shows that non-EU countries file a higher proportion of green EUTMs than EU member states (14.1% v 10.6%). This mainly represents filings from China, South Korea, Switzerland, the UK and the US. In the EU, the highest number of EUTMs were filed in Germany, Spain, France, Italy, the Netherlands and Poland.

Since 2015, the sectors filing the most green EUTMs have been “Energy conservation” and “Energy production”. Together, they account for more than 48% of green EUTM filings. This is followed by “Pollution control” with 18% of filings and “Transportation” with 11%.

The study also considered the size of company and between 2015 and 2021 found that 13% of large companies’ filings are green, which contrasted with 10% of SMEs’ filings. In 2021, all companies increased their activity in the green EUTM space, with large companies reaching 14.6% and SMEs 11.2%. 

The study is based on green EUTMs found through an algorithm to search through the nearly 70 million terms contained in the goods and services specifications of all EUTM applications filed since 1996 which contain at least one term from a list of over 900 terms that have been defined as “green” by experts.  Examples include photovoltaic, solar energy, recycling and wind energy.  

The study shows that the growing interest in sustainability is reflected in trade mark applications. Traditionally patents might be associated more with innovation, but the study shows that trade marks are also significant. The study also makes the point that SMEs play an important role in bringing green innovations to the marketplace and further research could be done in this area, with a view to the European Commission providing more support for SMEs.

It would be interesting to see if the UK IPO has seen a similar trend, but sadly it has not published such data.  However, it does have a fast-track Green Channel system for registering patents.  Under the Green Channel, applicants can speed up the processing of such patent applications that are of potential benefit to the environment.