In 2018 Crocs Inc. filed the following three-dimensional trademark in Sweden for class 25 – footwear:
Initially the Patent Office refused to register this mark on absolute grounds. Crocs submitted evidence for acquired distinctiveness which resulted in a successful registration.
The Swedish discount store ÖoB was selling similar products between 2014 and 2019.
Because of this Crocs Inc. initiated a lawsuit proceeding for trademark infringement. As a counter attack ÖoB asked for invalidation claiming that the Crocs’ trademark was not distinctive, it consists exclusively of a shape, which resulted from the nature of the goods themselves and a shape necessary to obtain a technical result.
The Swedish Patent and Market Court dismissed the claim for trademark infringement and invalidated the Crocs’ mark. The arguments for this decision was that the mark represents a footwear with the following characteristics 1) holes on the top 2) holes on each side 3) the heel strap 4) flat rivets, and 5) wide toe-area. Every of these characteristic could be attributed to the basic functions and properties of this type of footwear. It therefore concluded that the shape of the mark was the result from the nature of the goods themselves and the shape of goods was also necessary to obtain a technical result because the holes provides a better ventilation and enabled water to drain out.
The decision was appealed.
The Swedish Patent and Market Court of Appeal disagreed with the Court of first instance. According to the court the shape of such a footwear can be designed in different ways not only in that particular. The size, holes and overall design can be accomplished in many different ways. Because of this it cannot be assumed that the shape is a result from the nature of the goods.
The court considered that ventilation and draining a water out, in the particular case, can not be views as a technical function.
Nevertheless, the Court invalidated the Croc’s mark based on a lack of distinctive character. According to the Court, the evidence for acquired secondary meaning provided by Crocs mainly show significant sales figures but there is no information on how exactly consumers perceived the shape of the product and whether this perception is related to a sign of trade origin.
The Court considered the market survey from 2008 provided by the company as insufficient. The respondents in this survey associated the footwear with “Foppatoffeln” a name that is related to the hockey player Peter Forsberg who suffered from a heel injury, prompting him to wear the Crocs footwear on TV and in other public contexts. Only 7% of them related the product shape with Crocs as manufacturer while 46% suggested that the footwear could originate by any manufacturer. The survey didn’t include an option for an answer “do not know”, which ruined its credibility up to a point.
The advertisement campaigns with this footwear included the Crocs name and the depiction of crocodile too. The Court considered this as another evidence that consumers perceived the shape as a product characteristic not as a trademark.