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Even before the Baltic States - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - acceded to the European Union in 2004, and some years after their independence from the collapsed Soviet Union in the early 1990s, biannual ‘International’ IP conferences were being organised alternatively in the capital of one of the Baltic countries. This year it was the turn of Lithuania, a small country with a population of just over 3.5 million, although once, in its 14th century Grand Duchy form, it was actually the largest country in Europe. It was the Lithuanian branch of AIPPI, with the cooperation of various Ministries of the Government, who organised a two day conference in the heart of historical Vilnius, a UNESCO world heritage site and 2009 cultural capital of Europe.

AIPPI, the International Association for the Protection of Intellectual Property (website: ), deals with high level international policy issues in all aspects of IP except copyright (which is dealt with by another Swiss-based body). It has its administrative headquarters in Zurich, and its Secretary General is currently Michael Brunner, a patent attorney from Gill Jennings & Every, also a speaker at this conference.

In total, 23 countries were represented by161 participants, Germany and the Nordic countries forming the biggest Western European contingent. The UK had two representatives. The venue was the Radisson SAS Astorija Hotel, this apparently having been where President George Bush stayed when last visiting town. The non-early bird registration cost was just 200 euros.

The second day of the conference was when the trade mark presentations were given, although there was on the first day, and breaking up the otherwise uninterrupted patent-talk, an intervention by the charismatic Wubbo de Boer, President of OHIM, who gave an overview of the challenges facing the Office with its increasing numbers of filings, and gave promises of future greater efficiencies, especially with the greater commitment to electronic technology. Regarding the level of CTM activity originating from the Baltic States, he noted that this was still rather low. Indeed, the three Baltic States were at the bottom of the EU tables, only Slovakia being lower. Each country barely had over 20 registrations in 2006, as compared to well over 6,000 from the UK.

The low figures would indicate, obviously, that there were more businesses coming into the country, with already protected brands, than home-grown companies expanding out, as is to be expected in a former-communist growth economy. Having Marks and Spencer, situated just opposite the Body Shop, in the main shopping street, Gedimino Prospektas, is but a small illustration of this (and, of course, the mandatory McDonalds). But given time, the situation will no doubt change. In fact, one of the presentations of the all embracing theme of the second day, ‘Strategy and practice for developing, protecting and marketing Intellectual Property in the Baltic States’ was to do with a local success story - an immensely enterprising and rapidly expanding Lithuanian restaurant chain that specialises in chilli-flavoured pizzas (!). We were told that they were even in the process of applying for an olfactory CTM mark for pizza with an aroma of chillies (well, good luck...). This particular presentation was made by a marketing executive, and the mix of business inside stories with trade mark practitioner deliveries was a fascinating characteristic of much of the day, reflecting that the Baltic States, now part of the EU, have potentially a vibrant economic future with all the associated trade mark activities that go along with it.

The focus on trade marks was maintained with presentations on selected cases that had gone through the Lithuanian courts (which seemed to reveal that despite adaptation and harmonization of national laws with EU trade mark law, on the level of practical implementation there was still something to be desired), Latvian trade mark legislation and practice, insights into Estonian trade mark activity, and an excellent summary of recent EU case law made by Mireia Curell, the President of ECTA (she being one of the four-member Spanish cohort present).

Hospitality at this conference was exceptional. The Lithuanian Government laid on a wonderful open-air reception on the first evening, where following vodka aperitifs, vodka ‘digestifs’ and vodka in-betweens, there was plenty of Baltic-style ‘internal harmonizing’, including rousing folk singing led by the numerous Lithuanian participants. On the second night, proceedings were concluded with a sumptuous Gala dinner where we were entertained by a wonderfully talented jazz band as well as a celebrity magician. With this, and especially once the huge screen behind and above the stage began showing the Lithuanian national basketball team playing Croatia in the quarter-finals of the European Basketball championship, basketball being the national sporting passion, the atmosphere of the final evening together was electric. It felt thoroughly appropriate that Lithuania should have won that night. But cruelly ironic that they should ultimately succumb to Russia.

The next International Baltic Conference will take place in two years time in Tallinn, Estonia.

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