The General Court of the European Union has ruled in the case T‑596/21 Société Elmar Wolf v Fuxtec GmbH.
The case concerns the similarity between figurative marks based on the meaning they can convey to the consumers.
Fuxtec GmbH is the owner of the following international mark, where the EU is designated, for classes 4, 7, 8, 12, and 35:
Against this mark, an opposition was filed by Société Elmar Wolf based on several earlier figurative marks in classes 7, 8, and 35:
The EUIPO dismissed the opposition finding both signs dissimilar. The case was appealed.
The General Court upheld the EUIPO decision entirely. According to the Court, the earlier marks convey a clear impression of canine while the later mark is rather abstract, as a result of its clean curved lines, its sharp edges, and the lack of figurative details.
Due to this fact, consumers would need to put more effort and thoughts in order to discover the meaning of the sign if this is possible at all. This prevents the possibility of consumer confusion.
By contrast, as the Board of Appeal pointed out, the shape exhibited by the contested sign is rather abstract, as a result of its clean curved lines, its sharp edges and the lack of figurative details. It is true that that sign includes elements which could be perceived by a non-negligible part of the relevant public as the contours of the front view of a face, ears pointing upwards, a muzzle pointing downwards and eyes. However, the representation of a head which may emerge is obviously less realistic and considerably more stylised than the silhouette illustrated by the earlier marks, which represents some of the favourite attributes, a slightly open mouth and a menacing expression, of the representation of the head of a canine and which the rather abstract silhouette in the mark applied for does not have. In those circumstances, it is unlikely that the average consumer, who normally perceives a mark as a whole and does not carry out an analysis of its details at the time of purchase, will be capable of spontaneously associating the contested sign with the head of an animal, or even with the head of a canine, without engaging in an analysis which goes beyond that expected at the time of purchase.
It follows that it must be held, as the Board of Appeal found, that the overall impression created by the contested sign makes the identification of the head of an animal, let alone of a particular animal, highly arbitrary and, consequently, that the signs at issue are visually similar at most to a low degree.
The argument of the opposition applicant that the earlier marks have a high degree of inherent distinctiveness because they do not convey any meaning in relation to the goods and services covered by them, was dismissed by the Court, which considers that such consideration is not enough a high level of distinctiveness to be proved.