Is it allowed to import branded products into Europe?

Thursday, 1 December 2016

Is it allowed to buy branded products abroad (outside of Europe) and import them into Europe? What is parallel import? Is grey import allowed? These questions are frequently asked. In this blog we will provide the answers to these questions.

Parallel import

Parallel import (often referred to as grey import) means in short: import into Europe from other parts of the world of original products with a specific brand, without the permission of the trade mark owner.

An example: Let’s presume you buy 1,000 pairs of original (not fake) trousers from your favorite brand in Asia or the US (e.g. Levi’s or G-Star) and you subsequently sell them to a store in the Netherlands. Such products are often sold for lower prices in Asia and the US, so importing them into Europe can pay off. Until the trade mark owner finds out that is, because legally this is not allowed; the trade mark owner can take legal actions against such parallel import.

Intellectual property rights: a trademark owner can act against grey import

If you buy genuine products abroad, why can the trade mark owner still act against the import of these original products into Europe?

A trademark owner has the exclusive right to put its branded products onto the European market (European Economic Area -EEA), and thus control the first import. Therefore he can act against any party bringing products onto the European market under his brand, even when these products were first put on the market outside of Europe by this trade mark owner himself.

However, once a product has been put on the market in Europe by the trademark owner, or with his permission (e.g. through an official dealer or licensee) the trademark owner can in principle not act against the further trading of that product within the EEA. This is called exhaustion of trademark rights.

Please note that such exhaustion only applies to the specific items of the product that were put on the market in the EEA by the trademark owner or with his permission (for instance a batch of 2,000 jeans). If a specific type of product is sold by the trademark owner within the EEA, this does not mean that all items of this type of product may be imported.

There are exceptions to these ground rules. If for instance the quality of a product or its packaging has deteriorated, the trademark owner can have a legitimate interest to stop the further (re)sale of the products, even if these products were put on the market in the EEA by the trademark owner.

Questions about importing branded products?

If you have any questions about grey imports or importing branded products into Europe, please do not hesitate to contact me.