INPI stands for the Institut National de la Propriété Intellectuelle – the French National Institute of Intellectual Property. It is a public body with legal personality which forms part of the Ministry of the Economy and Finance.
By virtue of Article L.411-1 of the Intellectual Property Code, the INPI has three main functions:
1) to centralize and share all information necessary for the protection of innovations, the registration of businesses and to carry out all public awareness and education measures relating to these areas;
2) to apply all laws and regulations relevant to industrial property and the register of companies and businesses. To this end, the Institute is the competent authority for registering industrial property title requests or annexes as well as for evaluation, delivering titles, recording and monitoring to ensure that titles are maintained. It also centralises the register of companies and businesses, and is in charge of the Official Bulletin for public and commercial announcements. Furthermore, it ensures the sharing of technical, commercial and financial information contained in industrial property titles and centralized public documents. It also acts as the authority for approval requests and specification changes for geographical indicators as defined in Article L.721-1;
3) to take all measures necessary to ensure that innovators and businesses adapt to both national and international law. In this regard, the Institute proposes all reforms it considers useful to the Minister for Industrial Property. It also participates in the drafting of international agreements as well as representing France at relevant international organizations.
Therefore, it is the INPI that receives all registration requests, carries out the necessary evaluation and ultimately delivers or rejects a title for industrial property.
At the moment of registration, the INPI ensures that the Nice Classification (NCL) is adhered to and rejects requests for trademarks when the classifications sought to be covered are not correctly designated. Often, the Trademark Office suggests alternatives or seeks clarification from the registering party.
Furthermore, the INPI ascertains the substantive validity of a registration request by checking that it is signed and that the agent has the necessary authority, if not a lawyer specialized in intellectual property or an Industrial Property Advisor.
The INPI also carries out audits and reviews into the validity of trademarks. More and more nowadays, trademarks which are merely descriptive are the ones which are likely to mistake the consumer. For example, the INPI recently refused the term PARIS in a trademark if it did not make clear that the products or services come from France.
Not responding to the INPI’s requests for clarification within the stipulated timeframe often leads to the trademark registration request being rejected.
As regards claims against trademark registrations, the Institute makes the decision as to whether the signs or products and services in question are similar. The INPI’s decision can be appealed to the Court of Appeal.
Note however that the INPI is not in charge of refusing a registration request which is identical or similar to a previously registered trademark. As a consequence, having a registration certificate from the INPI does not exempt you from claims from other right holders.