Greece, as a longstanding member of the EU, has implemented the EU legislation on the enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs), including the IPED (Intellectual Property Rights Directive 2004/48/EC). The IPED, providing for civil protection of IPR holders, has been contemplated by the national procedural law and criminal sanctions for copyright and trademark infringement.
Said civil and criminal remedies aim at empowering IPR holders against the infringement of IPRs and leaving at their discretion when and how the available remedies will be used. However, states, recognising the value of IPRs in their national economies and business environments, and evaluating their protection as part of the public order, have been for long actively involved in addressing IPR infringement, mainly in the forms of counterfeiting and piracy. But it is also the IPR holders themselves that may find it more effective and cost-efficient to enforce their rights through administrative procedures, rather than via lengthy civil or criminal proceedings.
By virtue of Regulation (EU) No. 608/2013 concerning customs enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights, the EU engaged its customs authorities in the combat against the import of IPR infringing goods, an instrument used also by the Greek customs to tackle the issue in a country strategically positioned in the Southeastern corner of Europe and East Mediterranean. The Piraeus and Thessaloniki ports are the busiest Greek ports, serving as entry gates for goods arriving from the heavy manufacturing industries of Asia and the Middle East, with the customs authorities trying to intercept the illicit goods before they are transited into the heart of Europe, most often through railways. On the other hand, transportation of illicit goods also follows the northern land transportation route from the Greek-Turkish borders to the EU, via the port of Igoumenitsa in Northwestern Greece. It is noteworthy that the Greek customs authorities have been impressively active over the last years in seizures of infringing goods imported by land.
Building on the customs enforcement regime, in 2014 Greece took the bold decision to expand intervention and simplified destruction also in market cases, by vesting powers such as those set out in Regulation (EU) No. 608/2013 to essentially all Greek enforcement authorities, including customs. Such a move had positive results in the anti-counterfeiting fight, enabling swift action against infringers and saving disturbing storage costs that used to accumulate waiting for lengthy criminal proceedings to be concluded. The law also simplified the legal representation of IPR holders, providing that, instead of legalised PoAs and corporate documents, the person appointed as customs contact shall be ‘ipso jure’ empowered to act also in this procedure.
In 2020, the law was amended, further strengthening the administrative IP protection in the market by introducing two main changes. Firstly, the IPR holder’s confirmation that the goods are of infringing nature suffices for the authorities to proceed with their destruction, without considering the position of the owner of the goods. Secondly, the law now provides for deterring fines up to €100,000 by the Interagency Unit for Market Inspections (DIMEA).
Albeit this further strengthening of the administrative procedure, the infringer has always the right to recourse before the administrative courts against the destruction order and the fines imposed to them. However, the IPR holder is not being summoned in the administrative proceedings and might not be even informed on the initiation of said proceedings. The risk assumed by the fact that the administrative court might rule on non-infringement in the absence of the IPR holder should be addressed by the legislator, who should ratify that the IPR holder should be notified by the infringer upon the initiation of administrative proceedings.
Domain names .gr
The Hellenic Telecommunications and Post Commission (EETT) is an independent authority acting as the regulator also for the .gr top-level domains. EETT also acts as the sole dispute resolution board for .gr domains, being competent to hear any complaint requesting the cancellation or transfer of a domain name. According to the regulation issued by EETT, the most relevant cancellation ground for IPR holders is the cancellation of a domain name conflicting with a prior trademark, provided that bad faith of the owner of the domain name is proven.
On a more technical aspect, the exercise of the owner’s IPRs requires always disclosure of the details of the domain name: in compliance with the GDPR, EETT may disclose the details of entities-owners of domain names but may not disclose personal data of individuals; hence, following a request from the IPR owner in summary proceedings, the public prosecutor issues a respective order to EETT.
Online IPR infringements
DIMEA is also competent to address online IPR infringements related to online sales of goods. Upon verification of the illicit trade, DIMEA has the power to send an order to EETT to irrevocably delete the ‘website address (url)’ and cancel any further use thereof. This is a very powerful tool in the hands of DIMEA and, eventually the IPR holders, since it results to the permanent removal, not only of the infringing listing/product, but effectively of the .gr domain and the entire website used for the IPR infringement.
Online copyright infringement
As regards to online copyright infringement, the Greek legislator has established the Committee for the Notification of Copyright and Related Rights Infringement on the Internet (a three-member panel also known as the ‘Anti-Piracy Committee’), which operates as a function of the Hellenic Copyright Organisation. The Anti-Piracy Committee receives and adjudicates complaints for online copyright infringement and has the power to order the internet service providers to block illegal content. Recently, the Committee has been also vested with the power to order interim measures against the imminent infringement of national or international television broadcasts that are to be broadcasted live. Moreover, the Committee is also entrusted to issue the so-called dynamic blocking orders, resulting to the blocking orders being extended to other URLs from which the illegal content will be removed.
Overall, Greece has implemented effective measures and may be regarded as a pioneer in tackling counterfeits in the market and online. IPR holders can make use of all available mechanisms when deploying their IPR enforcement strategies, selecting from an ‘enforcement bouquet’ that includes civil, criminal and administrative measures and ‘cherry picking’ the measure that fits better in each particular case.