Trade mark and registered design owners in the West Midlands are being advised to act now to update their intellectual property rights in time for Bulgaria and Romania joining the European Union in January 2007.
Intellectual property lawyers at Hammonds in Birmingham say that it is vital for businesses to review their trade mark and design portfolios before the EU undergoes enlargement for the sixth time since its establishment in 1957.
"The consequences of failing to adhere to the warning could be costly," said Richard Plaistowe, an intellectual property specialist at Hammonds.
"These days in the increasingly globalised marketplace it is naive for businesses to think that their intellectual property rights won't need to be reviewed as the EU is enlarged again."
He added: "If you have not ensured that your portfolio of EU trade marks and designs is up to date then you will not benefit from the automatic extension to the new member states and conflicts based on Bulgarian or Romanian rights could easily arise.
"In legal terms it means that a business might have to undergo a costly and lengthy battle over ownership not to mention the potential loss of rights through being unable to obtain a registration."
When Bulgaria and Romania join the EU next year the Community Trade Mark and Designs systems will be affected in the same way as when the previous ten new member states joined in May 2004.
"The crucial point is that, although there will be an automatic extension of exist-ing EU trade marks and designs, each business will need to ensure that it has any proposed applications in place well before January 1, 2007 in order to benefit from this.
"Hammonds can act rapidly by using electronic filing, but any analysis of existing coverage for possible gaps should be carried out as a matter of some urgency," Mr Plaistowe said.