Vita as a white trademark in The EU

blueberry-1245702_960_720.jpgThe European Court has ruled in case T‑423/18 Fissler GmbH v EUIPO which concerns whether or not words describing colors can be registered as trademarks.

The background of the case is as follow:

On 27 September 2016, the applicant, Fissler GmbH, filed an application for registration of an EU a word trade mark for VITA.

The goods in respect of which registration was sought are:

– Class 7: ‘Food processors, electric; parts and accessories for the aforesaid goods’;

– Class 11: ‘Pressure cookers, electric; parts and accessories for the aforesaid goods’;

– Class 21: ‘Household or kitchen utensils and containers; cooking pot sets; pressure cookers, non-electric; parts and accessories for the aforesaid goods’.

By decision of 28 April 2017, the examiner refused registration of the mark applied for in respect of the goods concerned on the grounds that it was descriptive and devoid of any distinctive character for the purposes of Article 7(1)(b) and (c) of Regulation No 207/2009 (now Article 7(1)(b) and (c) of Regulation 2017/1001).

On 20 June 2017, the applicant filed a notice of appeal with EUIPO.

By decision of 28 March 2018 (‘the contested decision’), the Fifth Board of Appeal of EUIPO dismissed the appeal. In the first place, as regards the relevant public, it found that the goods concerned were aimed above all at the general public, but also in part at a specialist public, for example chefs, and that the level of attention varied from average to high. It added that, as the mark applied for was a Swedish term, it was necessary to take into account the Swedish-speaking public in the European Union.

In the second place, as regards the descriptiveness of the mark applied for, the Board of Appeal, first, pointed out that the sign vita is the definite plural form of the word ‘vit’, which means ‘white’ in Swedish. Next, it found that, for the purposes of applying Article 7(1)(c) of Regulation 2017/1001, the question whether or not white was a common colour for those goods was not determinative. It was sufficient that those goods could exist in white and that the sign could be descriptive of them. After stating that the colour white was not the most common colour for ‘electronic and non-electronic’ (that is to say, electric and non-electric) pressure cookers and other household utensils, but that it was at least a fairly usual colour for those goods, it found that that showed that an average consumer would associate the goods concerned with the colour white and therefore found that the mark applied for was descriptive. Furthermore, the Board of Appeal pointed out that some kitchen utensils and household appliances are often referred to as ‘white goods’ in English and Swedish (‘vitvaror’). On the basis of an extract from the website which could be accessed via the internet address http://www.vitvara.n.nu/vad-ar-vitvaror, it deduced that some of the goods concerned, such as electric food processors or electric pressure cookers, could collectively be described as ‘white goods’. It stated that, even if that were not possible, because it is mainly large household appliances, like washing machines and dishwashers, which are described as ‘white goods’, it clearly demonstrated that the colour white was generally associated with household utensils. Lastly, it found that the mark applied for was purely descriptive.

In the third place, as regards the lack of distinctive character of the mark applied for, the Board of Appeal found that the mark applied for would be understood by the relevant public as a simple statement of fact in the sense that the goods concerned were goods that were available in white. It concluded that that mark was purely descriptive and, consequently, had no distinctive character. It took the view that any manufacturer of food processors and cooking pot sets could manufacture its goods in white and that that mark was not therefore capable of distinguishing the applicant’s goods from those of other undertakings. Furthermore, the Board of Appeal rejected the applicant’s argument that there are other registered trade marks which consist solely of colours.

The General Court annulled the EUIPO’s decision with the following arguments:

In the present case, it must be stated that the colour white does not constitute an ‘intrinsic’ characteristic which is ‘inherent to the nature’ of the goods concerned (such as food processors, electric pressure cookers and household utensils), but a purely random and incidental aspect which only some of them may have and which does not, in any event, have any direct and immediate link with their nature. Such goods are available in a multitude of colours, among them the colour white, which is not more prevalent than the others. The Board of Appeal itself acknowledges this because the website that it mentions in paragraph 23 of the contested decision states that ‘these days, [household] utensils come in all colours’.

The mere fact that the goods concerned are more or less usually available in white, among other colours, is not disputed, but is irrelevant, since it is not ‘reasonable’ to believe that for that reason alone the colour white will actually be recognised by the relevant public as a description of an intrinsic characteristic which is inherent to the nature of those goods.

Consequently, neither of the two grounds relied upon by the Board of Appeal  is sufficient to establish that there is a sufficiently direct and specific link, within the meaning of the case-law referred to in paragraph 28 above, between the term ‘vita’ in Swedish and the goods concerned. The Board of Appeal did not show that the relevant public, when faced with the mark applied for, would immediately perceive it, without further thought, as a description of those goods or of one of the intrinsic characteristics of those goods that is inherent to their nature.

Furthermore, in so far as the Board of Appeal inferred the lack of distinctive character of the mark applied for from its being understood as a simple statement of fact in the sense that the goods concerned are available in white, it must be held that the relevant Swedish-speaking public will not perceive a description of an intrinsic characteristic of the goods concerned in the mark applied for and will not be able to associate it directly with those goods. On the contrary, the term ‘vita’ requires some interpretation on the part of Swedish and Finnish consumers. Those consumers will not understand the mark applied for as a simple statement of fact according to which those goods are available in white, but rather as an indication of their origin. That is particularly so because that mark will be affixed to goods of any colour, and not only to those which are white.

The ground for refusal relied on in the present case cannot therefore preclude the mark applied for from being regarded by the relevant public as being capable of identifying the commercial origin of the goods in question and distinguishing them from those of other undertakings.

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