World Intellectual Property Organization

Madrid System – Marking a Million

July 2009

In late May, the international trademark system passed a milestone in its 118-year history with the registration of the millionth mark by Austrian eco-company Grüne Erde – pointing to the enduring relevance and value of trademarks to businesses in all fields of commerce.

For Grüne Erde the Madrid System was “an easy and fast way” to reach all those countries in which it sought to register its trademark, “in one step … and at a relatively low cost”. Users of the Madrid System for the international registration of trademarks, such as Grüne Erde, can protect a mark in a large number of countries by obtaining an international registration having effect in each jurisdiction of the System’s 84 contracting parties.

The millionth international trademark registration consists of the words “Grüne Erde” in green letters separated by an image of a tree and covers goods in a total of 26 classes.

Austrian Patent Office

Commenting on the millionth trademark registration, Dr. FriedrichRödler, President of the Austrian Patent Office, said, “We are delighted that the millionth international trademark registration was made by an Austrian company and especially by ‘Grüne Erde’ which is a pioneer in environmentally-friendly and sustainable production and products. The Madrid System is clearly a valuable business solution for Austrian applicants that are seeking to protect and effectively manage their international trademark portfolios in a cost-effective way.  We welcome WIPO’s commitment to the continued evolution of the Madrid System and fully support efforts to make it ever more efficient and user friendly.”

Austria is the 10th largest user of the Madrid System.   Some 1,245 Austrian applicants registered their trademarks under the Madrid System in 2008, representing a 9.8 percent rate of growth over the previous year.

 

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Grüne Erde

Grüne Erde, established in 1983, was inspired, according to its owner and Managing Director Reinhard Kepplinger, by a desire to prove “it is possible to create an ecologically-aware company that is highly successful within the marketplace.” In the 1980s, the “green thinking” that is progressively gaining currency within today’s business circles, was quite unusual. Mr. Kepplinger says, “We injected ecological thinking into our business operations long before other enterprises. At the beginning, establishing Grüne Erde seemed a ‘mad’ idea.” The company’s foresight, however, is clearly paying off. In 2008, Grüne Erde chalked up sales worth €33 million. It employs over 300 people – who enjoy forward-looking working arrangements and conditions – and prides itself on maintaining the highest ecological standards.

The company offers over 5,000 organic products, including home furnishings, organic foods and natural cosmetics. Seventy percent of all products sold are produced by Grüne Erde’s wood furniture operation in southern Austria and its textile plant in upper Austria, where work is underway to build a facility to produce natural cosmetics, the fastest growing branch of the company’s business. The remaining 30 percent of its products are sourced from within the European Union. According to Mr. Kepplinger, “We always take great care to ensure that our products have short transport routes because we don’t want to waste energy and harm the environment.” He further notes, “We do not import ready-made goods from outside the European Union if they don’t have a ‘fair trade’ label. It is extremely important to us that our suppliers share our ecological principles.” The company refrains from using petrochemical-based or metal materials in its products. All wooden products are treated with natural oils and textiles made from natural fibers, including pure wool, organic cotton, linen and coconut fibers.

The bulk of the company’s product offering is designed in-house and sold under the Grüne Erde name which, thanks to the company’s sustained commitment to ecological principles, has become a trusted brand in Austria and neighboring Germany – synonymous with “the highest eco-friendly standards.”

Trademark registration: a strategic decision

For Grüne Erde, registering its trademark was a strategically important commercial decision. Registration enables the company to better protect its reputation as a reliable purveyor of ecologically-sound products, to defend itself against unscrupulous competitors and to secure its future financial viability.

At present, the company has a network of large stores, six in Austria (Scharnstein, Vienna, Linz, Innsbruck and Graz) and seven in Germany (Stuttgart, Berlin, Düsseldorf, Munich, Nürnberg, Frankfurt and Hamburg) with a clutch of smaller shops specializing in natural cosmetics and wellness products of which four are in Austria (Linz, St. Pölten, Graz and Villach) and three in Germany (Berlin, Wiesbaden and Hannover). Armed with its trademark, the company can confidently move forward with its plans to enlarge this network in Austria and Germany and move into Switzerland. It also plans to set up a range of natural cosmetic stores in other countries through franchising agreements – though not before a thorough vetting of the ecological credentials of potential business partners and detailed analyses of operating conditions.

Eco marks

Trademark registrations often mirror evolving consumer tastes. It is not surprising, then, that the millionth international trademark should have been registered by an eco-friendly company such as Grüne Erde. A growing environmental awareness among the general public is fuelling a drive to actively seek out ecologically-sound products. Research suggests environmental claims wield a powerful influence on consumers’ buying decisions. Eco trademarks enable consumers to make informed choices about the products they choose.

Unsurprisingly, companies are seeking to capitalize on this by profiling the ecological aspects of their products. Through the use of trademarks and service marks, companies can safeguard their ecological reputation and prevent confusingly similar brands from entering the marketplace. As a consequence, the number of eco or green-related trademark applications is on the rise and this looks likely to continue.

By Cathy Jewell, Media Relations Section, WIPO

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