The Role of INEN in the Administrative Process for Regulatory Infringement

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The Ecuadorian Standardization Service (INEN) is part of the Ecuadorian Quality System and plays an important role in regulation, standardization and metrology. It also participates in administrative proceedings carried out by the Sub-Secretary of Quality for infringements.

INEN is responsible for conducting inspections to verify compliance with technical standards before and during an administrative proceeding. The first inspection, which can be ex officio or by complaint, is intended to determine the conformity or not of a product with the corresponding technical standards. If the result is “non-compliant”, the Sub-Secretary of Quality will bring a sanctioning administrative proceeding.

As an example, in the controls carried out in compliance with the Ecuadorian Technical Regulation RTE INEN 284 “Quantity of product in prepackaged / pre-encased”, a term of 30 days is granted for the company to amend or justify the nonconformities detected in the first inspection. At the end of the 30-day term, INEN carries out the second technical inspection and if the non-conformity still exists, the Sub-Secretary of Quality can apply the sanctions provided in the Law of the Ecuadorian Quality System.

The 30-day term granted to execute corrective actions is sufficient in the case of national products, but it is not sufficient for foreign products. This situation has caused several companies to be sanctioned without considering the time, costs, and other eventualities that importing products entails.

When applying sanctions, the Sub-Secretary of Quality takes into account the reoccurrence of such nonconformities, so it is very important that companies make the necessary changes and file the required technical justifications, as well as their legal arguments before the second verification.

As derived from the preceding paragraphs, the function of INEN is to ensure compliance with mandatory technical standards whose main objective is to protect consumers.

INEN is part of several international organizations and applies international standards or parameters in the controls it performs; an aspect that has contributed to the acquisition of new skills, the application of new guidelines, and the accumulation of experience in the execution of its work. This office has put emphasis on the above-mentioned quality controls, especially regarding the net content of a product. To do so, it has adopted a monthly schedule to perform random inspections and verifications for each type of product.

Miguel Maigualema
Asociado en CorralRosales
miguel@corralrosales.com

Ecuadorian IP Office Overturns Problematic Lower Instance Decision on Recognition of English Language Terms

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The territory of the Republic of Ecuador is predominantly Spanish speaking. Amerindian languages are also widely spoken, particularly provincially, but their use is gradually diminishing. Despite the dominance of Spanish in Ecuador, the English language is everywhere, and its influence could be said to be growing. This poses certain interesting questions from a trademark law perspective, since the general approach of the Ecuadorian IP Office is to consider terms in foreign languages as “fantasy terms”. That is, foreign language terms will not be considered as being understood by the general public, except in the case of the most commonly known words.

The stated position is more complex in practice when one considers that due to the continued encroachment of the English language throughout the American Hispanic region, generally accepted as even more marked than in the case of the Iberian-Hispanic world, the list of well-known English words is growing and therefore not a fixed concept. In addition, what is or is not a “well-known English word” is largely subjective, with such an assessment often being reduced simply to the personal experiences of the examiner in question. It should also be pointed out that levels of English competence vary greatly among Ecuadoreans, producing somewhat of a lottery in the application of this doctrine.

An interesting case arose a several years back in relation to DISCOVERY COMMUNICATIONS, LLC’s enforcement of its ANIMAL PLANET mark for its well-known television series and documentaries about wild animals and domestic pets. Specifically, CENTRO DE RADIO Y TELEVISION CRATEL C.A., the company behind a national television channel in Ecuador, applied to register MUNDO ANIMAL in Classes 35, 38 and 41 (‘mundo’ means ‘world or ‘earth’). DISCOVERY opposed the applications on the basis of their Ecuadorian registrations for ANIMAL PLANET in Classes 38 and 41.

The oppositions were initially refused, following which all cases were appealed. Upon appeal before the IP Committee in Class 35, the authorities referred to studies as to the penetration of the English language in various countries around the world, saying that it would be incorrect to state that English had penetrated Ecuadorian culture. From there the reasoning was somewhat confused, but it was understood that the authorities considered the terms ‘animal’ and ‘planet’ as not easily understood by the general Ecuadorian public. This was quite an astonishing finding given that the the word ‘animal’ is the same in Spanish as in English, and that the Spanish for ‘planet’ is ‘planeta’. Clearly, this was the wrong starting point for deciding the cases.

It should be pointed out though that above Committee level decision contained a dissenting judgement from one of the Committee members, setting out in no uncertain terms that ANIMAL PLANET would be easily understood by Spanish speakers. The Committee is made up of three members, therefore the opposition was still rejected by 2 to 1. Nevertheless, dissenting judgements are rarely seen within such decisions, and needless to say the dissenting voice was encouraging for DISCOVERY, who decided to further appeal.

A reconsideration motion was filed against the mentioned decision, which is a request for the relevant authority to review its prior finding. Within such action, in contrast to the previous instance the authorities acknowledged that the meaning behind the mark ANIMAL PLANET would be easily understood by general Ecuadorian public, given the Spanish translation of the same is essentially identical except for the addition of the extra letter ‘a’ within the Spanish word ‘planeta’. The Office then went to conclude that the terms MUNDO and PLANET relate to an identical concept, and therefore that there was a risk that consumers would be confused. This reasoning was then followed within the related matters in Classes 38 and 41.

While the Ecuadorian trademark authorities’ acceptance that the meaning of ANIMAL PLANET can be deciphered by the average Ecuadorian consumer represents a welcome return to common sense, the Office’s position as a whole is interesting since the respective marks are being used on television programmes for content relating to animals. That is, in terms of inherent distinctiveness, the marks are towards the lower end of the spectrum. In addition, ‘mundo’ is not in fact a translation of ‘planet’, but rather means ‘world’ or ‘earth’. Therefore, the decision highlights that even in the case of non-literal translations, a conceptual link can still be inferred and be sufficient for a finding of confusing similarity. CorralRosales agrees with the decision, since it reflects the reality in that translations themselves are not always literal or direct.

A similar article was published in WTR on January 16th. Click to read it.

Ian Wall
Associate at CorralRosales
ian@corralrosales.com