The battle for ICELAND continues

pexels-photo-414101Iceland Foods will appeal the EUIPO’s decision for cancelation of its trademark ICELAND registered in 2014 for classes 7, 11, 16, 29, 30, 31, 32, 35. This trademark is used for supermarkets in The UK.

The procedure was initiated by Promote Island, a government organization from Iceland based on Article 52(1) EUTMR in conjunction with Article 7(1)(c) EUTMR:

The following shall not be registered:

  • (a) signs which do not conform to the requirements of Article 4;
  • (b) trade marks which are devoid of any distinctive character;
  • (g) trade marks which are of such a nature as to deceive the public, for instance as to the nature, quality or geographical origin of the goods or service;

The EUIPO agreed with Promote Island and canceled the trademark. The arguments for this are:

It follows from all of the above that ‘ICELAND’ may serve, from the point of view of the public concerned, to designate an essential and desired characteristic of the goods and services.

Therefore, the mark conveys obvious and direct information regarding the geographical origin of the goods and services in question, and in some cases, the subject matter of the goods as well.

Considering all of the above, it follows that the link between the word ‘ICELAND’ and the contested goods and services is sufficiently close for the sign to fall within the scope of the prohibition laid down by Article 7(1)(c) EUTMR and Article 7(2) EUTMR and that this was also the situation at the time of filing of the contested EUTM, namely, 19/04/2002.

The EUIPO found that Iceland Food failed to prove acquired secondary distinctiveness in the EU.

The Icelandic foreign minister Gudlaugur Thór Thórdarson expressed his satisfaction with this decision.

“It is contrary to common sense for a foreign company to be able to appropriate the name of a sovereign state as was being done in this case”, the minister said.

Iceland’s foreign ministry added that consumers were likely to associate the mark with “the country of Iceland for all goods and services the registration is claimed for”.

Source: WIPR.

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Color or figurative trademarks – that’s the question

paint-2985569_960_720The European court has issued a decision on case C‑578/17 Oy Hartwall Ab v Patentti- ja rekisterihallitus, which focuses on how exactly a color trademark should be presented in a trademark application and how an acquired distinctiveness has to be proved. In detail this case concerns:

In 2012, Hartwall applied for the following color trademark in Finland, described as follows: ‘The colours of the sign are blue (PMS 2748, PMS CYAN) and grey (PMS 877)’ (‘the mark at issue’):

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The goods in respect of which registration was sought are in Class 32 ‘Mineral waters’.

Following a preparatory decision of the Intellectual Property Office, Hartwall clarified that it was applying for registration of the mark at issue as a ‘colour mark’, not a figurative mark.

The Finnish Patent Office rejected the application on the ground that the trade mark applied for was devoid of distinctive character.

In that regard, the Office highlighted that the exclusive right to register certain colours cannot be granted if it is not established that the colours in respect of which protection is sought have acquired distinctive character through long-term significant use.

The decision of the Finnish Patent Office stated that the market study produced by Hartwall showed that the reputation of the mark at issue was established not with regard to the colours as such but with regard to the figurative sign the contours of which are defined and determined. Therefore, contrary to the requirement resulting from that office’s consistent practice, it found that the colour combination in respect of which protection is sought has not been established as having been used to identify the goods offered by Hartwall for a sufficient length of time and sufficiently widely to have acquired distinctive character in Finland through use, as of the date on which registration was sought.

Hartwall appealed against this decision before the Market Court in Finland but the appeal was dismissed.

According to the court, the graphic representation of the sign in respect of which protection was sought did not include a systematic arrangement associating the colours concerned in a predetermined and uniform way and, therefore, that mark did not satisfy the requirements with regard to the graphic representation.

Hartwall appealed against the decision to the Supreme Administrative Court.

The Supreme Administrative Court highlights the importance of the case, in so far as the Intellectual Property Office is of the view that, as regards colour marks, the distinctive character of a sign must be proved by evidence of long-term significant use of the sign.

It is therefore unsure as to the consequences of the classification given to a sign by the person seeking protection of that sign under trademark law.

Because of this Supreme Administrative Court decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1)  For the interpretation of Article 2 of Directive [2008/95] and the condition relating to the distinctive character of a trade mark within the meaning of Article 3(1)(b) thereof, is it of relevance whether the trade mark is to be registered as a figurative mark or a colour mark?

(2)  If the classification of the mark as a colour mark or figurative mark is of importance in the assessment of its distinctive character, is the mark, regardless of its representation as a drawing, to be registered as a colour mark in accordance with the trade mark application, or can it be registered only as a figurative mark?

(3) If it is possible to register, as a colour mark, a mark represented in the form of a drawing in the trade mark application, is it necessary for the registration as a colour mark of a mark which has been graphically illustrated in the trade mark application with the accuracy required by the case-law of the Court of Justice relating to colour marks (and which is not the registration as a mark of a colour in itself, abstract, without shape or contours), is it necessary to submit in addition solid evidence of use as required by the [Intellectual Property Office] or any such evidence?’

According to the European court:

In the overall analysis of distinctive character by reference to the actual situation, it is necessary to examine whether and to what extent the systematically arranged colour combination is capable of conferring inherent distinctive character on the sign in question.

Consequently, the answer to the first question is that Articles 2 and 3(1)(b) of Directive 2008/95 must be interpreted as meaning that the classification as a ‘colour mark’ or ‘figurative mark’ given to a sign by the applicant on registration is a relevant factor among others for the purpose of establishing whether that sign can constitute a trade mark within the meaning of Article 2 of the directive and, if so, whether it is distinctive within the meaning of Article 3(1)(b) of that directive, but does not release the competent trade mark authority from its obligation to carry out a global assessment of distinctive character by reference to the actual situation of the mark considered, which means that that authority cannot refuse registration of a sign as a mark on the sole ground that that sign has not acquired distinctive character through use in relation to the goods or services claimed.

In the present case, the sign protection in respect of which is sought is represented by a figurative drawing, whereas the verbal description relates to a protection concerning two colours alone, that is, blue and grey. Moreover, Hartwall has clarified that it seeks to register the mark at issue as a colour mark.

Those circumstances appear to reveal an inconsistency showing that the application for protection under trade mark law is unclear and imprecise.

Consequently, the answer to the second question is that Article 2 of Directive 2008/95 must be interpreted as precluding, in circumstances such as those in the main proceedings, the registration of a sign as a mark due to an inconsistency in the application for registration, which it is for the referring court to ascertain.

Adidas won a trademark opposition in Japan

great-torii-of-miyajima-1425480_960_720.jpgAdidas won an opposition against the following application for a figurative trademark, applied for Class 25 by a Chinese company:

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Against this sign, Addidas opposed its following earlier national trademark in Japan in Class 25 too:

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According to the German producer, both signs are confusingly similar because their visual elements create a similar impression in consumers. What’s more, Adidas’s mark has a reputation which increases, even more, the risk of confusion.

The Opposition Board coalesce with Adidas concluding that there is a possibility for consumer confusion because both signs are visually similar for identical goods and all of that is supported by the earlier trademark’s reputation.

Source:  Masaki Mikami, MARKS IP LAW FIRM (JAPAN) 

Lacoste lost a crocodile case in Nederland

The Hague District Court ruled in a lawsuit between Lacoste and Hema, which concerns a children’s underwear with a crocodile motif.

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According to Lacoste, Hema infringed the rights over their registered trademarks, which above all is well-known amongst the consumers.

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The Court, however, disagreed with Lacoste stating that there was no infringement in the case at hand because the use of a repetitive crocodile pattern was perceived as a decoration, not as a source of origin. The practice of using animal depictions for children’s clothing is widespread.

Lacoste claimed that confusion could be created due to the fact that their trademarks have had a reputation on the market for many years. In addition, a survey was been provided, in which many respondents stated that they connect crocodile depictions with the Lacoste’s trademark.

The Court dismissed this evidence because the questions in the survey were leading, making respondents think about trademarks. On top of that, the relevant public wasn’t defined correctly.

According to Lacoste, some of the clothes contained only one depiction of crocodile which made even easier for the consumers to make a connection with their trademark.

The Court disagreed for this too, concluding that this cloth had been selling in a package with others and only in the Hema’s stores so the relevant consumers would not be confused neither be able to connect it with the Lacoste’s trademarks.

Source: AKD NV – Bram Woltering, Lexology.

A dispute over geographical indications can threaten the trade deal between the EU and Australia

bigstock-Australia-flag-with-european-u-133799099.jpgAs it is well-known the EU is negotiating with Australia for a $100 billion trade deal similar to those signed with Canada and Japan.

In that regard, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan expressed his concerns about the deal after the last meeting between the parties in Canberra.

As in all other deals, the EU expects all of its geographical indications to cover the other party’s territory after the deal, which aim to protect the European producers of traditional products.

The problem in the case of Australia, however, is that many local manufacturers have been using European geographical indications, such as Prosecco and Feta for free for decades. The EU insists that to be discontinued. On the other side, the Australian government tries to support its producers in an attempt to avoid eventual economic disturbance for them.

In most of the cases, such disputes end with a grace period after which the relevant producers have to seize the use of the protected geographical indications or in some cases at least to add the name of the country in front for a distinction.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.