As of 15 August 1996 trademark conflicts leading to a court action are required to have exhausted a prior stage of mediation. In other words, potential plaintiffs ought to request mediatory proceedings before bringing a court action.

Mediation Law No. 24,573

  Although Mediation Law No. 24,573 includes certain trademark matters, it has been enacted with a broader purpose and application in mind. Indeed, it is really aimed at easing the case-load burden presently afflicting the Argentine judiciary. Thus, the compulsory mediation system is applicable to civil and commercial matters in general. There are, however, some exceptions to this legislation, as for example: family law -related cases; actions to which the State or any governmental agency is a party (consequently, trademark actions where the Patent and Trademark Office is a party should not require prior mediation), probate and bankruptcy cases as well as labor and criminal actions.

  Most trademark cases involve oppositions to applications that Applicant considers are undue and unfounded. Therefore, according to the new legislation, before initiating a court action for undue opposition, Applicant must now request mediation.

- Court-appointed or private mediator?

  There are two forms of mediation available. One is through a court appointed mediator, the other is by retaining a so called "private mediator". In both cases the mediators must be registered with the Registry of Mediators, an institution especially created under the Mediation Law. While the court appointed mediator is selected at random, the private mediator is designated by mutual agreement of the parties (it is obviously a condition to private mediation that the parties might be able to reach an understanding as to the mechanism for resolving their dispute). In a private mediation, most issues - including terms and mediator's fees - are determined by the parties and the mediator.

  Let us assume that Applicant would decide to request a court appointed mediator. Firstly, it must proceed with the filing of an application form (and payment of fees) with the Federal Court of Appeals for Civil and Commercial Matters.

  The law establishes short procedural terms for conducting the proceeding since it is important that the requesting party's right to a court action should not be unjustifiably delayed.

  Once a mediator is chosen the requesting party would have 3 days to notify such person. Thereafter, the mediator has 10 days - as of the date of notification - to set a hearing date. Finally, if the parties do not agree to extensions, the mediation should be completed within 60 days from the date of the last notification.

  During the proceedings, all communications between mediator and the parties should remain confidential. At the hearing(s), the parties should be accompanied by legal counsel. Moreover, in mediation through court appointed mediator, the parties who would not be present at hearings must bear in mind that legal counsel should have a power of attorney duly authorizing the transaction of business on behalf of the grantor. Additionally, if any of the parties do not attend a hearing the law provides for the application of fines.

  Once the mediation is concluded, the minutes of the proceeding are prepared and signed for filing. Should there be a settlement, the filing is done before the Patent and Trademark Office (INPI - National Institute for Industrial Property) and those agencies required to take notice of the agreement for implementation purposes. In case there is no agreement, the mediation minutes are filed with INPI, which in turn would forward the matter to the Federal court system for proper initiation of undue opposition proceedings.

- Is the new legislation beneficial to trademark proceedings?

  The opposition practice in Argentina almost always involves negotiations between the Applicant's trademark counsel and the opposing party's counsel. The Trademark Office places the Application file on hold until the conflict is resolved or the Application is declared as abandoned. The parties' representatives then engage in communications, the purpose of which, obviously, is to obtain a compromise for the withdrawal of the opposition. Therefore, the parties have been discussing the case openly, and most often times extensively, before reaching the decision of preparing a court action for undue opposition.

  In this regard, the newly instituted system of compulsory mediation has not apparently brought any significant benefit to those trademark owners or applicants involved in the process. The parties have, usually, been discussing the issues previously without a mediator, and the mediatory step might seem to the Applicant, particularly, as an additional hurdle to overcome before resolving the conflict. It is not surprising then, that in many cases the parties' would appear at mediation hearing simply to comply with a legal obligation and confirm their disagreement, thus opening Applicant's possibility of commencing a court action. To that extent, (again, provided that the opposing parties can agree to it) private mediation is presumably more adequate. Then, at least in those cases, the new law has increased the cost of accessing the courts by imposing additional fees to be received - this time not by the government - by individual mediators.

  In view of the above, there have been discussions regarding the appropriateness of the compulsory mediation system as applied to trademark conflicts and the possibility of obtaining an exemption for them from Mediation Law No. 24,573.