New regulatory framework for patent attorneys

Version française disponible ici – Nederlandse versie beschikbaar hier.

On 1 December 2020, the first part of the law of 8 July 2018 reforming the profession of patent attorney and creating a Belgian Institute for Patent Attorneys, entered into force.

This law is an addition to the existing regulations on the profession of patent attorney. The second part of the law will come into force in 2021.

Two royal decrees were adopted on 30 September 2020 to implement this law. The first one is a royal decree on patent representation. The second one is a royal decree establishing the disciplinary regulations applicable to patent attorneys.

Access to the profession of patent attorney

 Any person who establishes in Belgium to practise the profession of patent attorney must first be registered in the register of recognised patent attorneys. Natural persons wishing to appear in this register must satisfy various conditions, in particular:

  • be a natural person;
  • be a national of an EU Member State;
  • be domiciled in an EU Member State;
  • satisfy the conditions relating to training and professional qualification.

These requirements came into force on 1 December 2020.

The law also determines the conditions under which a person who is a national of a Member State, who is legally established in a Member State to practise the profession of patent attorney, and who comes to Belgium for the first time to practise as a patent attorney on a temporary or occasional basis, or who is practising as a patent attorney in Belgium for the first time without coming to Belgium, may act as a professional representative before the Belgian Office for Intellectual Property (“OPRI”) in the same way as a recognised patent attorney.

The date of entry into force of these provisions has yet to be determined by royal decree. Currently, these persons are authorised to practise in Belgium pursuant to the principle of the freedom to provide services: any attorney and patent attorney who is a national of an EU Member State can practise this profession in an EU Member State, as well as any attorney authorised to practise this profession in Belgium pursuant to a law or an international convention, may act in the same capacity as a recognised patent attorney before the OPRI.

The register of recognised patent attorneys is regulated by the royal decree on patent representation. It is freely available for consultation. It is maintained by the OPRI within the FPS Economy (Belgian Federal Public Service for Economy). For each registered person, this register contains certain data. The registered person must notify the OPRI of any modification of their data within fifteen days, as well as any modification of their situation with regard to the conditions of registration in the register. This part of the reform entered into force on 1 December 2020.

Creation of the Institute for Patent Attorneys

The law creates an Institute for Patent Attorneys.

This Institute has legal personality, is self-financed and has its headquarters in the Brussels-Capital Region. Its purpose is the study, protection and development of the professional, socio-economic, moral and scientific interests of patent attorneys.

The Institute for Patent Attorneys is composed of three bodies:

1. The General Assembly, composed of all the members of the Institute, including a president and a vice-president who are elected for a period of six years.

2. The Council, composed of four members, elected by the General Assembly from among its members for a period of six years. The Board is notably in charge of the management of the Institute for Patent Attorneys.

3. The Disciplinary Commission, composed of three members and three substitute members elected by the General Assembly from among its members for a period of six years. The Disciplinary Commission ensures that the disciplinary regulations and rules of conduct are applied by the members of the Institute.

A government commissioner and a deputy who assists him/her are appointed by royal decree on the proposal of the Minister in order to control the acts of the General Assembly and the Council of the Institute for Patent Attorneys.

The mission of the Institute for Patent Attorneys consists of:

1. Establishing a list of its members;

2. Coordinating the continuous training of its members;

3. Ensuring compliance with the disciplinary rules and the rules of conduct;

4. Expressing, on its own initiative, or at the request of public authorities or public or private institutions, opinions on matters within its competence; and

5. Sharing information with the Patent Agent Accreditation Commission existing within the OPRI concerning the status of the affiliation of the members of the Institute.

All patent attorneys in the register of recognised patent attorneys, as well as all patent attorneys who practise the profession of patent attorney in Belgium on a temporary or occasional basis, will automatically be affiliated to the Institute for Patent Attorneys.

This part of the reform also came into force on 1 December 2020.

Aspects related to the registration of patent attorneys

The law enacts the aspects related to the registration of patent attorneys.

Patent attorneys who are members of the Institute for Patent Attorneys must comply with the Institute’s disciplinary rules, rules of conduct, continuous training obligations and internal policies. This obligation comes into force on 1 December 2020.

The members of the Institute must also be covered by an insurance policy for any liability that may arise within the exercise of their profession as a patent attorney. The terms and conditions of this insurance are laid down in the royal decree on patent representation. The date of entry into force of this obligation has yet to be determined.

The professional title of  “mandataire en brevets” – “octrooigemachtigde” – “Patentanwalt” will become a legally protected title on a date that has yet to be determined by a future implementing decree. However, members of the Institute who only temporarily or occasionally work in Belgium will do so under the professional title (or the academic title) of their Member State of origin.

Professional secrecy and right to speak before Belgian courts and tribunals

Professional secrecy will be applicable to patent attorneys in the context of their intervention in judicial or administrative proceedings from a date yet to be determined. No one may disclose or be compelled to disclose communications exchanged between the patent attorney, acting in such capacity, and their client unless the latter has expressly waived this right.

Patent attorneys are recognised as having a right to speak before courts. At the request of the party or their attorney, they may provide written or oral explanations of factual matters, technical considerations or questions relating to the application of patent law. The date of entry into force of this right has yet to be determined.

Disciplinary rules

A set of Disciplinary Rules has been established by a royal decree of 30 September 2020, which came into force on 1 December 2020.

Since 1 December, members of the Institute are subject to certain ethical obligations such as the obligation to exercise their profession with dignity and integrity, an obligation of discretion (independently of professional secrecy), the obligation to notify the principal of a refusal of mandate and the obligation to refuse the mandate in the event of a conflict of interest, and the prohibition to limit their professional civil liability to an amount inferior to the amount of their basic insurance cover.

Any breach will be examined by the Disciplinary Commission, which is seized by a complaint from any interested party. It can also be seized ex officio, or on the reporting of facts by the Chairman of the Council of the Institute or by the Minister in charge of the Economy. The disciplinary procedure is detailed in the royal decree.

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For any question or request for assistance, please contact the authors:

Emmanuel Cornu
emmanuel.cornu@simontbraun.eu

Charlotte Behets Wydemans
charlotte.behetswydemans@simontbraun.eu

+32 (0)2 543 70 80

Customs seizures | EORI number

Since 15 September 2020, the EORI number has become mandatory to obtain customs measures: the seizure request forms have been modified to impose the mention of the EORI number.

What is the EORI number?

The “EORI” number (“Economic Operator Registration and Identification”) is unique to each economic operator (or representative of economic operators) for the entire European Union (“EU”) and is issued by a customs authority of a Member State. It is used to identify economic operators and other parties involved in all their dealings with customs authorities (in particular for the import and export of goods). It is intended to simplify the administrative tasks of economic operators.

Secure access

This identification number will allow secure access to the European Union Customs Trader Portal. It allows economic operators and their representatives to electronically submit application forms requesting customs action with respect to goods suspected of infringing an intellectual property right, as well as application forms for an extension of the period during which a customs action is to be taken.

And in practice?

Each economic operator established in the customs territory of the EU must obtain its EORI number from the customs authorities of the Member State in which it is established. Economic operators not established in the customs territory of the EU must also be in possession of an EORI number to import or export goods. Such operators will have to apply for this purpose to the customs authority of the place where they intend to carry out their first customs activities, and the authority will grant them an EORI number. This procedure will also have to be followed by UK companies for which the UK EORI number will no longer be valid for customs activities in the EU after the end of the Brexit transition period (currently scheduled to end on 31 December 2020).

The procedure in Belgium

The companies or persons established in Belgium must, before submitting an application, verify whether or not they have already been assigned an EORI number. To do so, they must consult the EORI database (here) and enter their enterprise number preceded by “BE”. A message will then indicate whether their EORI number already exists. If this is not the case, an application form must be sent to the FPS Finance (Customs and Excise), which is available here.

Therefore, we recommend that all right holders make sure, as of today, that they are in possession of a valid EORI number (EORI online database available here), even if they do not usually carry out an activity involving contact with the customs authorities. In fact, in addition to the import and export, this number makes it possible to act quickly and have goods infringing intellectual property rights blocked by customs.

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For any question or assistance, please contact the authors:

Charlotte Behets Wydemans
cbw@simontbraun.eu
+32 (0)2 533 17 76

Fernand de Visscher
fdv@simontbraun.eu
+32 (0)2 533 17 18

Simont Braun recognised again for its patent expertise by iAM 1000

Our IP team has again been highly recognised in Silver Band for its expertise in patents by iAM Patent. The department is ranked in Silver with the following mention:

“Complex global patent litigation is meat and drink to the lawyers at Simont Braun, who conjure up ingenious solutions to contentious challenges in the life sciences, medical device, electronics sectors. Fernand de Visscher recently played a hand in a high-profile matter for weapons manufacturer FN Herstal, ensuring that his client could keep its key product on the international market. He also teamed up with colleague Eric De Gryse to represent OGI Systems, a diamond and gemstone manufacturer, in parallel infringement proceedings which are also ongoing in Israel and India. They both possess significant trial strength and an intuitive feel for the intricacies of each brief, giving every angle the attention it deserves to cover all bases and construct bulletproof arguments.”

Fernand de Visscher and Eric De Gryse are also individually ranked in Silver for their experience and capabilities.

Thank you to our clients and peers for your trust!

La fin du courrier sous film plastique ? Pas si vite…

Il y a quelques mois, nous vous annoncions que le Gouvernement wallon avait adopté, le 28 février 2019, un arrêté visant à diminuer certains déchets et favoriser la propreté publique (Voir notre news de juin 2019).

Pour rappel, cet arrêté considère que « la mise sous film plastique des publications gratuites n’est pas indispensable à leur distribution, et que les alternatives avérées sont disponibles sur le marché, notamment pour le regroupement des publications, leur protection éventuelle et leur adressage ».

Il interdit l’envoi d’imprimés publicitaires sous film plastique sur le territoire de la Région wallonne, tout en octroyant un temps d’adaptation aux acteurs sur le marché.

Mais la réalité s’est avérée plus compliquée que prévu, et une requête en annulation, accompagnée d’une demande de suspension, a été introduite devant le Conseil d’Etat fin juin 2019.

Suspension de l’arrêté

Selon le requérant en suspension et en annulation, l’arrêté serait entaché d’illégalité en raison du défaut d’alternative appropriée au film plastique.

Le Gouvernement wallon peut prendre des mesures pour limiter la production de déchets de papier et de plastique provenant de publications gratuites, pour favoriser leur recyclage et lutter contre les problèmes de propreté publique liés à leur distribution. A cette fin, il peut notamment interdire les films plastiques autour de ces publications, mais seulement lorsqu’il existe des alternatives appropriées. La section de législation du Conseil d’Etat avait d’ailleurs rappelé, dans son avis sur le projet d’arrêté du Gouvernement wallon, cette condition sine qua non.

Selon le requérant, il n’y aurait pas à ce jour d’alternative appropriée à l’emballage sous film plastique. Selon lui, une alternative appropriée serait « celle qui est facilement accessible pour les distributeurs, qui est proposée à un coût acceptable et qui offre une facilité d’utilisation raisonnable ».

Le Conseil d’Etat a considéré que la condition qu’il existe des alternatives appropriées « n’aurait aucun effet utile si elle imposait seulement d’identifier abstraitement d’autres procédés comme la distribution sous enveloppe en papier ou le remplacement de la distribution postale par des messages électroniques, ce qui tombe sous le sens ». La simple affirmation qu’il existerait des alternatives appropriées n’est pas suffisante. Le Conseil d’Etat a donc conclu qu’aucun élément du dossier législatif n’a permis de constater que l’existence d’alternatives appropriées avait été sérieusement vérifiée.

Ce 30 septembre 2019, le Conseil d’Etat a suspendu l’arrêté du Gouvernement wallon en attendant la décision sur l’annulation. Dès lors, cet arrêté est pour le moment dépourvu de tout effet juridique et les autorités ne pourront pas l’exécuter. De même, les acteurs économiques ne sont plus tenus de le respecter et peuvent continuer à envoyer leurs imprimés publicitaires sous film plastique.

La décision définitive se prononçant sur l’annulation n’est pas attendue avant la fin de l’été 2020.

Absence d’alternatives?

A notre sens, les alternatives appropriées sont effectivement limitées sur le marché. Toutes les potentielles alternatives que nous avons rencontrées (en ce compris les films comportant une teneur en biosourcé) tombent sous la définition (très large !) de « film plastique » au sens de l’arrêté du Gouvernement wallon. Le film plastique y est en effet défini comme tout emballage en matière plastique, le plastique étant quant à lui tout « polymère […] auquel des additifs ou d’autres substances peuvent avoir été ajoutés, et qui est capable de jouer le rôle de composant structurel principal de l’objet ».

Selon l’administration toutefois, même un film ne comprenant qu’une quantité limitée de polymère tomberait sous la définition du « plastique », et dès lors sous l’interdiction prévue par le décret wallon.

En conséquence, la seule alternative qu’il semblait rester aux entreprises pour l’envoi de leurs imprimés publicitaires était d’une part, de les envoyer sans emballage, ou d’autre part, de les envoyer dans un emballage papier nettement plus coûteux.

Les récents événements risquent donc à nouveau de bouleverser le comportement des entreprises qui n’avaient pas trouvé d’« alternatives » satisfaisantes. Espérons toutefois qu’elles optent déjà pour des films plastiques plus écologiques, comme les films biodégradables conformes à des normes européennes, une alternative à la fois responsable et réalisable, mais qui tombaient sous l’interdiction de l’arrêté du Gouvernement wallon.

Affaire à suivre…

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Laurent de Brouwer et Charlotte Behets Wydemans

La fin du courrier sous film plastique ?

Le 28 février 2019, un arrêté du Gouvernement wallon favorisant la prévention de certains déchets et la propreté publique a été adopté. Il interdit les envois postaux sous film plastique, tout en prenant en compte la nécessité de laisser un temps d’adaptation aux acteurs.

Il considère ainsi que « la mise sous film plastique des publications gratuites n’est pas indispensable à leur distribution, et que les alternatives avérées sont disponibles sur le marché, notamment pour le regroupement des publications, leur protection éventuelle et leur adressage ». Fini donc le film plastique autour des envois postaux, les entreprises devront mettre en œuvre d’autres moyens (écologiques) pour protéger ou regrouper leurs envois postaux.

Champ d’application

L’arrêté vise principalement les « imprimés publicitaires », terme qui englobe les catalogues, documents promotionnels, bons de commandes, offres, et tout autre document envoyé par les entreprises de vente en ligne.

La presse d’information gratuite est également soumise à l’interdiction, mais uniquement si la publication remplit plusieurs conditions cumulatives portant notamment sur la périodicité et le type de contenu (information à portée locale, petites annonces, manifestations culturelles, enquêtes publiques, etc.).

La nouvelle réglementation revêt néanmoins un bémol, et non des moindres : elle ne concerne que la distribution d’imprimés publicitaires sur le territoire de la région wallonne. Les autres régions (flamande et bruxelloise) ne sont pas concernées.

Interdiction immédiate ou progressive ?

Pour les imprimés publicitaires sous film plastique qui ne faisaient l’objet d’aucune distribution sous film plastique avant le 28 avril 2019, leur distribution sous film plastique est directement et immédiatement interdite en Région wallonne.

Pour les imprimés publicitaires qui faisaient déjà l’objet d’envoi sous film plastique avant le 28 avril 2019, il a été prévu une réduction progressive de leur usage jusqu’à leur suppression complète au 31 décembre 2022.

Les objectifs de réduction sont les suivants :

  • pour le 31 décembre 2019 : réduction de minimum 20 % de la quantité de films plastiques utilisés en 2017 ;
  • pour le 31 décembre 2020 : la réduction de minimum 30 % de cette quantité ;
  • pour le 31 décembre 2021 : la réduction de minimum 50 % de cette quantité ;
  • pour le 31 décembre 2022 : la suppression totale des films plastiques.

Lorsque les données ne sont pas disponibles pour 2017, l’année de référence pourra être 2018 (moyennant due motivation et démonstration auprès de l’administration).

La quantité de films plastiques s’entend du tonnage de films plastiques destinés à la région wallonne ou, lorsque les données ne sont pas disponibles, et moyennant due motivation et démonstration de l’équivalence, le nombre de films utilisés.

Les obligations de rapport annuel

 Pour le 1er mars de chaque année, les distributeurs d’imprimés publicitaires devront faire rapport à l’administration (à savoir le Département sols et déchets (DSD) du SPW Agriculture, ressources naturelles et environnement) reprenant :

  • Le nombre de publications emballées dans du film plastique et distribuées en Wallonie l’année précédente ;
  • Les producteurs respectifs de ces publications ;
  • L’année de référence ;
  • Le tonnage correspondant de films plastiques.

Le format et les modalités des rapports et communications sont pour le moment libres, mais l’administration pourra les préciser ultérieurement. Possibilité qu’elle examine en ce moment-même.

Les distributeurs peuvent confier l’exécution collective de tout ou partie de leurs obligations de rapport à un tiers, à condition d’en communiquer les coordonnées à l’administration.

Les sanctions

Le non-respect de l’obligation de réduction progressive est une infraction de catégorie 2, conformément à l’article 51 du décret du 27 juin 1996 relatif aux déchets.

Il peut être puni d’une amende d’au moins 100 euros et de maximum 1.000.000 euros. Théoriquement, le responsable pourrait également être puni d’un emprisonnement de huit jours à trois ans.

Les peines maximales pourront être doublées en cas de récidive dans les 3 ans.

L’infraction pourra également être poursuivie par voie d’amende administrative d’un montant de 50 à 100.000 euros.

En 2021, de nouvelles sanctions entreront en vigueur. Les sanctions pénales resteront identiques, mais les sanctions administratives seront quant à elles augmentées à un montant allant de 150 à 200.000 euros. Des mesures d’exécution à prendre par le prochain Gouvernement pourront le cas échéant prévoir l’application exclusive de sanctions administratives ou l’application de mécanismes transactionnels pour certaines infractions.

Conclusion

L’arrêté du 28 avril 2019 a le mérite de prendre une mesure forte et très concrète pour la protection de l’environnement et la réduction des déchets plastiques.

Il est néanmoins regrettable que les Régions n’ont pas pu se mettre d’accord sur des mesures qui seraient uniformes sur l’ensemble du territoire.

D’ici-là, reste à espérer que l’exemple wallon sera suivi par les autres Régions ou que les entreprises adopteront de leur plein gré ces mesures à l’ensemble de leurs envois postaux.

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Laurent de Brouwer et Charlotte Behets Wydemans

Implementation of the GDPR in Belgium – An overview of the law of 30 July 2018

Following the entry into force of the GDPR on 25 May 2018 (see our news “GDPR – Are you ready?”), the law of 30 July 2018 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data, which repeals the law of 8 December 1992, has been published in the Belgian Official Journal on 5 September 2018 and entered into force the same day.

Another matter on which the GDPR gives some flexibility to the Member States is the processing of Although the GDPR is directly applicable in all EU Member States, it contains numerous provisions allowing or imposing on the Member States to enact national implementation provisions.

The material scope of the new Belgian law is, however, more extensive than a mere implementation of the GDPR. It also transposes the Directive 2016/680 on the protection of natural persons with regard to the processing of personal data by competent authorities for the purposes of the prevention, investigation, detection or prosecution of criminal offences or the execution of criminal penalties, and regulates in details the conditions under which personal data can be processed by various public authorities in that context, including by national intelligence and security services, armed forces, the threat assessment coordination body, the passengers information body, or even the body controlling the police information.

The following overview will focus on the consequences of the law of 30 July 2018 for private undertakings rather than the public sector.

Territorial scope of the law

The territorial scope of the law is determined by criteria similar to those outlined in the GDPR. Therefore, the law applies to any processing of personal data in the context of the activities of the establishment of a controller or a processor in Belgium, as well as to any processing of personal data of data subjects who are in Belgium by a controller or processor not established in Belgium where the processing activities are related to the offering of goods or services to data subjects in Belgium or to the monitoring of the behaviour of data subjects in Belgium.

Age of consent

In accordance with the flexibility provided by the GDPR, the Belgian legislator decided to lower to 13 (instead of 16 in the GDPR) the age from which children can consent themselves to the processing of their personal data by a third party willing to address them a direct offer of information society services.

Sensitive data

Another matter on which the GDPR gives some flexibility to the Member States is the processing of so-called ‘sensitive’ data (particularly, personal data revealing the racial or ethnic origin of the data subject, their political opinions, their religious or philosophical beliefs, their trade union membership, data concerning their health or even their sexual orientation). Namely, the GDPR provides that the Member States can enact reasons of substantial public interest allowing, under certain conditions, the processing of such sensitive data. The Belgian legislator has set a list of processing activities based on such reasons including, in particular, the processing by associations for the defence of human rights or for the assistance to missing or sexually exploited children. Additional conditions oversee the processing of genetic data, biometric data or health-related data.

Judicial data

The GDPR enables the Member States to allow, under certain conditions, the processing of personal data relating to criminal convictions and offences or related security measures by other persons than official authorities. In that respect, the Belgian law notably allows the processing of such data by natural persons or by legal persons governed by public or private law, as long as it is necessary for the management of their own disputes. The law also authorises lawyers to process such data if the defence of their clients requires it. Another specific scenario dealt with by the law is when the personal data are made public by the data subject. In such cases, the processing is allowed provided that it is compatible with the purpose for which the data have been made public. Nonetheless, the lawfulness of those processing activities always depends, in particular, on the respect of the confidential nature of these data.

Specific processing purposes

The processing of personal data for journalistic purposes and for the purposes of academic, artistic or literary expression is subject to an alleviated legal regime to avoid restricting excessively such activities. In particular, the law waives the data controller’s obligation to provide information and limits considerably the rights of the data subjects.

The law also provides for a derogatory regime for personal data processing made for purposes of archiving in the public interest, scientific or historical research, or statistical purposes. In accordance with the GDPR, the law oversees such processing with appropriate safeguards.

Procedural aspects and sanctions

Procedurally, the law creates the possibility for data subjects to seek a ceasing order in case of unlawful processing or to potentially assert their rights, in particular their right of access and of rectification, their right to be forgotten, or even their right to restrict the processing. The data subject can also mandate a body, an organisation or an association to act on their behalf. As the case may be, such ceasing order may also be requested by competent authorities. The judge, adjudicating in such proceedings, can order not only the termination of the breach but also publicity measures if they can contribute to the termination of the breach or its effects. The judge can also order the data controller or data processor to inform third-parties that they had access to data which are inaccurate, incomplete or irrelevant, or whose storage is forbidden. The judge can even be seized by an ex parte application if there are serious reasons to believe that evidence could be concealed, could disappear, or could be made inaccessible, and order any measure to prevent such concealment, disappearance or inaccessibility.

Finally, the law provides for various administrative and criminal sanctions, that can be imposed on the data controller or processor, or against their servants or agents.

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Philippe Campolini and Charlotte Behets Wydemans

For more information, please contact the authors:
philippe.campolini@simontbraun.eu
charlotte.behetswydemans@simontbraun.eu
+32 (0)2 533 17 52