New laws upgrading Maltese copyright, patents and trademarks protection came into force in 2000, bringing Malta into line with the relevant EU IP legislation. Malta also joined the European Patent Convention (EPC) and the Patent Cooperation Treaty in 2007, as well as the WIPO Copyright Treaty and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty in 2009, adopting their corresponding regulations.
Malta's primary IP legislation falls under the:
- Enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights (Regulation) Act
Intellectual property rights
Industrial property rights
Patent protection is available in Malta under the Patents and Designs Act 2000 and subsequent amendments and Legal Notices through the Commerce Department's Industrial Property Registrations Directorate.
Other industrial property rights include:
- designs and models - under the Patents & Designs Act of 2000;
- trademarks - under the Trademarks Act of 2000;
- business names - also covered by the Trademarks Act of 2000;
- other forms of IPR protection are also available under the Copyright Act 2000, utility models however are not covered in Malta.
In addition, the Ministry for Resources and Rural Affairs is responsible for industrial property rights linked to plant variety, animal breeds, methods of treating people and animals, identification of origin, as well as geographical indications which comes under the Trademarks Act 2000.
Formal protection for Industrial Property in Malta is through registration at the Commerce Department. Copyright works receive statutory protection automatically once they are placed in the public domain, and protection lasts up to 70 years after the demise of the copyright holder.
- artistic works;
- audiovisual works;
- literary works (including computer programs);
- musical works.
These are informal methods of Intellectual Property protection. Additional advice on these matters is provided by the Commerce Department through a new IP Check-Up Diagnostic service to assist SMEs.
Intellectual property protection bodies
The Commerce Department's Industrial Property Registrations (IPR) Directorate is responsible for the registration of Maltese trademarks, designs and patents. It also deals with IP policy by updating and upgrading Maltese IP protection law. The Customs Division's IPR Enforcement Unit specialises in the detection of counterfeit products and the enforcement of IPR laws.
The Malta Customs Department intervenes only in cases involving consignments placed under the control of Customs at the external border, and when infringing the intellectual property rights of right-holders who have a registered application for action with the Customs Department under national law Chapter 414 & European Council Regulations 1383/2003 and 1891/2004.
Customs may also intervene ex-officio, when they encounter goods bearing a right which is registered with the Maltese authorities or with OHIM (Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market), even though not having an application for action registered with Malta Customs in terms of the aforementioned IPR regulations.
Protecting intellectual rights abroad
Maltese legislation incorporates all the obligations arising from the following conventions and agreements. As well as the WTO TRIPS agreement, Maltese legislation is also fully aligned to the EU acquis:
Maltese membership of the above agreements and conventions implies that other signatories' national laws automatically protect certain Maltese IP rights abroad and vice versa.
However, Malta's membership of the following international agreements still has to be secured:
- Protocol to the Madrid Agreement on the International Registration of Marks;
- Hague Agreement on the International Registration of Designs;
As Malta does not yet have full membership of these agreements, certain Maltese IP rights can only be extended abroad through the IPR Directorate's European counterparts (i.e. national IP offices, the Office for Harmonization of the Internal Market and the European Patent Office).
Combating counterfeiting and piracy
This aspect is covered by the State Enforcement Agencies in Malta, namely the Police and the Customs Department.
Property rights encourage investment in innovation and research.
Acquiring Maltese IP rights
Applications for Maltese IP rights can be made through the IPR Directorate as well as via a local IP attorney who is bound by professional secrecy. All applications are filed using the relevant application form, and each application is accompanied by the prescribed filing fee together with the power of attorney documents and priority documents where applicable. The IPR Directorate's forms and fees are available on its website to complete and submit online or to send back to the IPR Directorate or complete through a Malta-based IP attorney.
The European Patent Office processes all applications as a single application but separate patents will result if several countries are designated.
A confidentiality agreement should be considered when disclosing confidential information to a third party before applying for IP protection.
Acquiring EU IP rights
For IP protection throughout the EU, the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market can provide harmonised protection under a Registered Community Design (RCD) and the Community Trade Mark (CTM). Applications for RCDs and CTMs and their renewal can be completed online using an e-filing service on the OHIM website. Oppositions can also be filed in this way.
Legal-Malta offers access to information on IP in its 'Malta Technology Centre' section as well as a guide to IP in Malta.
The EPO's Online Services discussion forum and the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) available on the OHIM website are a valuable source of information.