Audiovisual archives and transfer of copyrights

set-3884399_960_720.jpgThe Advocate General of the European Court G. HOGAN has issued it opinion in case C‑484/18 Société de perception et de distribution des droits des artistes-interprètes de la musique et de la danse (Spedidam), PG, GF v Institut national de l’audiovisuel.

The case concerns the following:

The INA is a commercial State body established by law in 1974. It is responsible for conserving and promoting the national audiovisual heritage. It keeps the audiovisual archives of ‘national broadcasting companies’ (national radio and television stations) and helps with their exploitation.

As I have already observed, PG and GF are the two sons and successors in title of ZV, a world-famous jazz drummer. They allege that the INA marketed on its website without their authorisation 26 video recordings and a phonogram reproducing performances by their late father. They brought an action based on Article L. 212-3 of the Intellectual Property Code, under which a written authorisation of the performer is required for the fixation of its performance, its reproduction and its communication to the public.

The INA pleads in response that Article 49(II) of the Law on freedom of communication allows it to exploit the archives in return for paying performers royalties set by collective agreements concluded with their representative trade unions. PG and GF counter in turn, inter alia, that these statutory provisions which derogate from the protection of performers conflict with the provisions of Directive 2001/29.

By judgment of 24 January 2013, the tribunal de grande instance de Paris (Regional Court, Paris, France) ordered the INA to pay PG and GF the sum of EUR 15 000 in compensation for the damage suffered as a result of the unauthorised exploitation of the interpretations in question. By a judgment of 11 June 2014, the cour d’appel de Paris (Court of Appeal, Paris, France) confirmed in substance the judgment delivered at first instance.

In particular, these two courts considered that the application of Article 49(II) of the Law on freedom of communication was subject to the prior authorisation of the performer, whereas proof of such authorisation would not have been provided by the INA.

However, by judgment of 14 October 2015, the Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation) overturned the judgment of the cour d’appel (Court of Appeal). It ruled that the cour d’appel (Court of Appeal) erred in holding that the application of the derogating regime was subject to proof that the performer had authorised the first exploitation of his performance, thus adding to the law a condition that it did not include. Following this judgment, the cour d’appel de Versailles (Court of Appeal, Versailles, France), at the request of the INA, dismissed the claims for compensation which had been brought against it.

Having heard the appeal brought by the successors in title against the latter judgment, the Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation) entertained doubts about the compatibility with EU Law of the French legislation and the interpretation of various provisions of Directive 2001/29.

According to the Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation), the special regime enjoyed by the INA does not fall within any of the exceptions and limitations to the rights referred to in Articles 2 and 3 of Directive 2001/29, provided for in Article 5 of the directive. The Cour de Cassation (Court of Cassation) is also of the opinion that the solution adopted by the Court in Soulier and Doke (3) is not applicable to the present case. That latter case concerned the reproduction of out of print books. While it is true that the legislation on out of print books at issue in Soulier and Doke had derogated from the protection guaranteed to authors by Directive 2001/29, the scheme introduced for the benefit of the INA in the general interest is intended to reconcile the rights of performers with those of producers as being of equal value within the system of that directive.

In those circumstances, the Cour de cassation (Court of Cassation) decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following question to the Court for a preliminary ruling:

‘Must Article 2(b), Article 3(2)(a) and Article 5 of Directive 2001/29 … be interpreted as not precluding national rules, such as those laid down in Article 49(II) of [the Law on freedom of communication], as amended by Article 44 of Law No 2006-961 of 1 August 2006, from establishing, for the benefit of the [INA], the beneficiary of the exploitation rights of national broadcasting companies in the audiovisual archives, derogating provisions under which the terms on which performers’ works can be exploited and the remuneration for that exploitation are governed by agreements concluded between the performers themselves or the employee organisations representing performers and that institute, which must specify, inter alia, the scale of remuneration and the arrangements for payment of that remuneration?’

The Advocate’s opinion:

Article 2(b), Article 3(2)(a) and Article 5 of Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society must be interpreted as precluding a national rule, insofar as it provides for a transfer to the Institut national de l’audiovisuel (French National Audiovisual Institute) of the performers’ rights.

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To love Y is not as to fly

heart-shape-1714807_960_720.jpgThe European Court ruled in case C‑99/18 P, FTI Touristik GmbH v Harald Prantner и Daniel Giersch, which in brief concerns an attempt by both individuals to register the following European trademark:

download.pngIts classes of goods and services are as follow:

– Class 16: “Printed matter; photographs; stationery; wrapping materials; printed publications; books; handbooks [manuals]; pamphlets; newsletters; albums; newspapers; magazines and periodicals; tickets; vouchers; coupons and travel documents; passes; tags and labels; posters; postcards; calendars; diaries; instructional material”;

–  Class 39: “Transport; travel arrangement; travel information; provision of car parking facilities; transportation of goods, passengers and travelers by air, land, sea and rail; airline and shipping services; airport check-in services; arranging of transportation for passengers, goods and trips by land and sea; airline services; baggage handling services; cargo handling and freight services; arranging, operating and providing facilities for cruises, tours, excursions and vacations; aircraft chartering; rental and hire of aircraft, cars and boats; taxi services; bus services; chauffeuring; coach services; train services; airport transfer services; airport parking services; aircraft parking services; escorting of travellers; travel agency services; advisory, consultancy and information services relating to all the aforesaid services; providing information regarding transportation services; providing travel information online; travel booking via computer databases or the Internet”;

–  Class 43: “Services for providing food and drink, temporary accommodation; restaurant and bar services; food and drink catering; provision of holiday accommodation; booking and reservation services for restaurants and holiday accommodation; hotels and/or restaurants; reservations in connection with running hotels.”

Against this application, an opposition was filed by FTI Touristik on the ground of the following early registered European trademark for classes 16, 39, 41, 43:

download (1).png

EUIPO ruled that there is no significant similarity between the signs at hand, stating that:

“Phonetically, it found, in essence, that for the public that did not know the English term “fly”, the signs at issue bore no similarity. For consumers that did know the English word “fly”, there was a phonetic similarity provided that the mark applied for was associated with the word “fly”. However, this seemed rather unlikely since, first, there was a great difference between the letter “y” and the stylised heart in the mark applied for and, secondly, it was unusual to replace the letter “y” with a heart symbol. Conceptually, it found, that, for the public that did not know the English term “fly”, the signs at issue bore no similarity. For consumers that did know and understand the English word “fly”, there was a conceptual similarity provided that the word “fly” was identified in the mark applied for. However, this seemed unlikely for the same reasons as those set out in the context of the assessment of the phonetic similarity.”

The decision was appealed.

The European court agreed with EUIPO dismissing the appeal. Most consumers will not understand an image of the heart in the later mark as Y letter. Even in case that this is possible the additional element .de in the earlier mark is sufficient to make the necessary distinction between the signs.

How clicking on the thumb reflect on your privacy?

like-3033202_960_720.jpgThe Advocate General of the European Court has given its opinion on case C‑40/17 Fashion ID GmbH & Co.KG v Verbraucherzentrale NRW e.V., Facebook Ireland Limited, Landesbeauftragte für Datenschutz und Informationsfreiheit Nordrhein-Westfalen.

The case concerns the following thumb case:

Fashion ID (‘the Defendant’)’ is an online retailer. It sells fashion items on its website. The Defendant embedded the ‘Like’ plug-in supplied by Facebook Ireland Limited (‘Facebook Ireland’)(4) in its website. As a result the so-called Facebook ‘Like’ button appears on the Defendant’s website.

The order for reference further explains how the (non-visible) part of the plug-in functions: when a visitor lands on the Defendant’s website on which the Facebook ‘Like’ button is placed, his browser automatically sends information concerning his IP address and browser string to Facebook Ireland. The transmission of this information occurs without it being necessary to actually click on the Facebook ‘Like’ button. It also seems to follow from the order for reference that when the Defendant’s website is visited, Facebook Ireland places different kinds of cookies (session, datr and fr cookies) on the user’s device.

Verbraucherzentrale NRW (‘the Applicant’), a consumer protection association, brought judicial proceedings against the Defendant before a Landgericht (District Court, Germany). The Applicant sought an order to force the Defendant to cease integrating the social plug-in ‘Like’ from Facebook on the grounds that the Defendant allegedly did not:

–   ‘expressly and clearly explain the purpose of the collection and use of the data transmitted in that way to users of the internet page before the provider of the plug-in begins to access the user’s IP address and browser string, and/or

–  obtain the consent of users of the internet page to access to their IP address and browser string by the plug-in provider and to the data usage, in each case prior to the access occurring, and/or

–   inform users who have given their consent within the meaning of second head of claim that this can be revoked at any time with effect for the future, and/or

–   inform that “If you are a user of a social network and do not wish that social network to collect data about you via our website and link these to your user data saved on the social network, you must log out of the social network before visiting our website”.’

The Applicant claimed that Facebook Inc. or Facebook Ireland saves the IP address and browser string and links them to a specific user (member or non-member). The Defendant’s argument in response is a lack of knowledge in this respect. Facebook Ireland argues that the IP address is converted to a generic IP address and is saved only in this form and that there is no allocation of the IP address and browser string to user accounts.

The Landgericht (District Court) ruled against the Defendant on the first three pleas. The Defendant appealed. A cross-appeal was lodged by the Applicant in respect of the fourth plea.

It is within that factual and legal context that the Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf (Higher Regional Court, Düsseldorf) decided to refer the following questions to the Court:

‘(1)  Do the rules in Articles 22, 23 and 24 of Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data (OJ 1995 L 281, p. 31) preclude national legislation which, in addition to the powers of intervention conferred on the data-protection authorities and the remedies available to the data subject, grants public-service associations the power to take action against the infringer in the event of an infringement in order to safeguard the interests of consumers?

If Question 1 is answered in the negative:

(2)  In a case such as the present one, in which someone has embedded a programming code in his website which causes the user’s browser to request content from a third party and, to this end, transmits personal data to the third party, is the person embedding the content the “controller” within the meaning of Article 2(d) of [Directive 95/46] if that person is himself unable to influence this data- processing operation?

(3)  If Question 2 is answered in the negative: Is Article 2(d) of [Directive 95/46] to be interpreted as meaning that it definitively regulates liability and responsibility in such a way that it precludes civil claims against a third party who, although not a “controller”, nonetheless creates the cause for the processing operation, without influencing it?

(4) Whose “legitimate interests”, in a situation such as the present one, are the decisive ones in the balancing of interests to be undertaken pursuant to Article 7(f) of [Directive 95/46]? Is it the interests in embedding third-party content or the interests of the third party?

(5)  To whom must the consent to be declared under Articles 7(a) and 2(h) of [Directive 95/46] be made in a situation such as that in the present case?

(6)      Does the duty to inform under Article 10 of [Directive 95/46] also apply in a situation such as that in the present case to the operator of the website who has embedded the content of a third party and thus creates the cause for the processing of personal data by the third party?

The Advocate’s opinion:

–  Directive 95/46/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 October 1995 on the protection of individuals with regard to the processing of personal data and on the free movement of such data does not preclude national legislation which grants public-service associations standing to commence legal proceedings against the alleged infringer of data protection legislation in order to safeguard the interests of consumers.

–  A person that has embedded a third-party plug-in in its website, which causes the collection and transmission of the user’s personal data (that third party having provided the plug-in), shall be considered to be a controller within the meaning of Article 2(d) of Directive 95/46. However, that controller’s (joint) responsibility is limited to those operations for which it effectively co-decides on the means and purposes of the processing of the personal data.

–   For the purpose of the assessment of the possibility to process personal data under the conditions set out in Article 7(f) of Directive 95/46, the legitimate interests of both joint controllers at issue have to be taken into account and balanced against the rights of the data subjects.

–  The consent of the data subject obtained under Article 7(a) of Directive 95/46 has to be given to a website operator which has embedded the content of a third party. Article 10 of Directive 95/46 shall be interpreted as meaning that the obligation to inform under that provision also applies to that website operator. The consent of the data subject under Article 7(a) of Directive 95/46 has to be given, and information within the meaning of Article 10 of the same directive provided before the data are collected and transferred. However, the extent of those obligations shall correspond with that operator’s joint responsibility for the collection and transmission of the personal data.

How important trademark disclaimers are?

midsummer-2263200_960_720.jpgThe European Court has ruled in case C‑705/17 Patent- och registreringsverket v Mats Hansson.

In nutshell, this case concerns whether disclaimers regarding the trademark scope of protection have to be taken into consideration for the purpose of trademark assessment. What exactly happened?

Swedish company Norrtelje Brenneri Aktiebolag registered in 2007 the following trademark in Class 33 of the Nice Agreement:

That registration was accompanied by a disclaimer stating that ‘registration does not give an exclusive right over the word RoslagsPunsch’. The disclaimer was required by the Swedish Patent Office as a condition of registration of the trademark because the term ‘Roslags’ refers to a region of Sweden and the term ‘Punsch’ describes one of the goods covered by the registration.

Mr Hansson, as an individual, applied in 2015 for registration of the word mark ‘ROSLAGSÖL’ in Sweden for goods in Class 32, in particular non-alcoholic beverages and beers.

The Swedish Patent Office rejected the application for registration because of the likelihood of confusion between the new application and the earlier trademark. The problem was that the term ‘Roslags’ is descriptive. The fact that both signs also included other words or figurative elements did not reduce the similarity. Moreover, the signs referred to identical or similar products which address the same customers.

Mr Hansson appealed this decision before the Patents and Market Court, arguing that there was no likelihood of confusion between the signs in question. As regards the effect of the disclaimer relating to the earlier trademark on the outcome of the action, the Patent Office argued before that court that an element of a trademark which has been excluded from protection by means of a disclaimer must in principle be regarded as not distinctive. In the present case, registration of the earlier trade mark had been granted with such a disclaimer because the trademark included a term that was descriptive of a geographical region, ‘Roslags’.

However, The Patent Office’s practice concerning the non-distinctive character of geographical names had developed in the meantime, putting into practice the conclusions in paragraphs 31 and 32 of the judgment of 4 May 1999, Windsurfing Chiemsee(C‑108/97 and C‑109/97, EU:C:1999:230). The term ‘Roslags’ was now capable of registration in itself as a trademark and was distinctive for the goods at issue in the present case so that it could even dominate the overall impression given by the earlier trade mark. It thus followed from a global assessment of the signs at issue that because of the common element ‘Roslags’ the relevant public could have the impression that the goods referred to by those signs had the same commercial origin.

The Patents and Market Court allowed Mr Hansson’s application and approved the registration of his sign as a trademark, finding that there was no likelihood of confusion. The court also stated that, despite the disclaimer, the terms to which it related had to be taken into account in the assessment of that likelihood, in so far as they could have an effect on the overall impression created by the earlier trade mark, and hence on the extent of protection of that mark. According to the court, the purpose of the disclaimer was to make it clear that the exclusive right deriving from registration of the earlier trade mark did not relate to the terms referred to as such.

The Patent Office appealed against the judgment of the court to the Svea Court of Appeal, Patents and Market Court of Appeal, Stockholm, Sweden.

That court explains that in its view Directive 2008/95 and the associated case-law confirm that the substantive rules on the protection of a national trade mark are in principle fully harmonized at the level of EU law, while the procedural rules are within the competence of the Member States. It therefore asks whether a national rule allowing a disclaimer to be made may be categorised as a procedural rule, even though it has the effect of changing the criteria on which is based the global assessment to be carried out in order to examine the likelihood of confusion within the meaning of Article 4(1)(b) of that directive.

That court is uncertain whether that provision, having regard in particular to the settled case-law of the Court according to which the assessment of the likelihood of confusion must be based on an overall impression and the perceptions of consumers play a dominant part in the global assessment of that likelihood, may be interpreted as meaning that a disclaimer can affect that assessment because an element of the earlier trade mark was, at the time of registration, expressly excluded from protection by means of that disclaimer, so that that element must be given less importance in the analysis of the overall impression than it would have had in the absence of the disclaimer.

So the Svea Court of Appeal, Patents and Market Court of Appeal decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1)  Must Article 4(1)(b) of [Directive 2008/95] be interpreted as meaning that the global assessment of all relevant factors which is to be made in an assessment of the likelihood of confusion may be affected by the fact that an element of the trade mark has expressly been excluded from protection on registration, that is to say, that a so-called disclaimer has been entered on registration?

(2) If the answer to the first question is in the affirmative, can the disclaimer in such a case affect the global assessment in such a way that the competent authority has regard to the element in question but gives it a more limited importance so that it is not regarded as being distinctive, even if the element would de facto be distinctive and prominent in the earlier trade mark?

(3) If the answer to the first question is in the affirmative and the answer to the second question in the negative, can the disclaimer even so affect the global assessment in any other way?’

The European Court’s decision:

Article 4(1)(b) of Directive 2008/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2008 to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trade marks must be interpreted as precluding national legislation making provision for a disclaimer whose effect would be to exclude an element of a complex trade mark, referred to in that disclaimer, from the global analysis of the relevant factors for showing the existence of a likelihood of confusion within the meaning of that provision, or to attribute to such an element, in advance and permanently, limited importance in that analysis.

When and where Facebook has to remove illegal information – an EU perspective

pexels-photo-1471752.jpegThe Advocate General of the European Court   has given its position on case C‑18/18 Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek срещу Facebook Ireland Limited, which concerns the following:

Ms Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek was a member of the Nationalrat (National Council, Austria), chair of the parliamentary party die Grünen (‘the Greens’) and the federal spokesperson of that party.

Facebook Ireland Limited, a company registered in Ireland having its headquarters in Dublin, is a subsidiary of the United States corporation Facebook Inc. Facebook Ireland operates, for users outside the United States and Canada, an online social network platform accessible at the address http://www.facebook.com. That platform enables users to create profile pages and to publish comments.

On 3 April 2016 a user of that platform shared on their personal page an article from the Austrian online news magazine oe24.at entitled ‘Greens: Minimum income for refugees should stay’. That publication had the effect of generating on the platform a ‘thumbnail’ of the original site, containing the title and a brief summary of the article, and a photograph of the applicant. That user also published, in connection with that article, an accompanying disparaging comment about the applicant accusing her of being a ‘lousy traitor of the people’, a ‘corrupt oaf’ and a member of a ‘fascist party’. The content placed online by that user could be consulted by any user of the platform in question.

By letter of 7 July 2016, the applicant, inter alia, asked Facebook Ireland to delete that comment.

As Facebook Ireland did not remove the comment in question, the applicant brought an action before the Handelsgericht Wien (Commercial Court, Vienna, Austria) and requested that court to issue an injunction ordering Facebook Ireland to cease publication and/or dissemination of the photographs of the applicant if the accompanying message disseminated the same allegations and/or ‘equivalent content’, namely that the applicant was a ‘lousy traitor of the people’ and/or a ‘corrupt oaf’ and/or a member of a ‘fascist party’.

On 7 December 2016 the Handelsgericht Wien (Commercial Court, Vienna) made the interlocutory order applied for.

Facebook Ireland subsequently disabled access in Austria to the content initially published.

On appeal, the Oberlandesgericht Wien (Higher Regional Court, Vienna, Austria) upheld the order made at first instance as regards the identical allegations. In doing so, it did not grant Facebook Ireland’s request that the interlocutory order be limited to the Republic of Austria. On the other hand, it held that the obligation to cease the dissemination of allegations of equivalent content related only to those brought to the knowledge of Facebook Ireland by the applicant in the main proceedings, by third parties or otherwise.

The courts of first and second instance based their decisions on Paragraph 78 of the UrhG and Paragraph 1330 of the ABGB, and took the view, in particular, that the public comment contained statements which were excessively harmful to the applicant’s reputation and gave the impression that she was involved in unlawful conduct, without providing the slightest evidence in that regard. Nor, according to those courts, was it permissible to rely on the right to freedom of expression for statements relating to a politician if there was no connection with a political debate or a debate that was in the public interest.

The two parties to the main proceedings brought actions before the Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court, Austria), which considered that the statements at issue were intended to damage the applicant’s reputation, to insult her and to defame her.

The referring court is required to adjudicate on the question whether the cease and desist order made against a host provider which operates a social network with a large number of users may also be extended, worldwide, to statements with identical wording and/or having equivalent content of which it is not aware.

In that regard, the Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court) states that, according to its own case-law, such an obligation must be considered to be proportionate where the service provider was already aware that the interests of the person concerned had been harmed on at least one occasion as a result of the contribution of a recipient of the service and where the risk that other infringements would be committed is thus demonstrated.

It was in those circumstances that the Oberster Gerichtshof (Supreme Court), by decision of 25 October 2017, received at the Court on 10 January 2018, decided to stay proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court:

‘(1) Does Article 15(1) of Directive [2000/31] generally preclude any of the obligations listed below of a host provider which has not expeditiously removed illegal information, specifically not just this illegal information within the meaning of Article 14(1)(a) of [that] directive, but also other identically worded items of information:

(a)  worldwide?

(b)  in the relevant Member State?

(c)  of the relevant user worldwide?

(d)  of the relevant user in the relevant Member State?

(2)  In so far as Question 1 is answered in the negative: Does this also apply in each case for information with an equivalent meaning?

(3)   Does this also apply for information with an equivalent meaning as soon as the operator has become aware of this circumstance?’

The Advocate’s opinion:

(1) Article 15(1) of Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (‘the Directive on electronic commerce’) must be interpreted as meaning that it does not preclude a host provider which operates a social network platform from being ordered, in the context of an injunction, to seek and identify, among all the information disseminated by users of that platform, the information identical to the information that has been characterised as illegal by a court that issued that injunction. In the context of such an injunction, a host provider may be ordered to seek and identify the information equivalent to that characterised as illegal only among the information disseminated by the user that disseminated that illegal information. A court adjudicating on the removal of such equivalent information must ensure that the effects of its injunction are clear, precise and foreseeable. In doing so, it must weigh up the fundamental rights involved and take account of the principle of proportionality.

(2) As regards the territorial scope of a removal obligation imposed on a host provider in the context of an injunction, it should be considered that that obligation is not regulated either by Article 15(1) of Directive 2000/31 or by any other provision of that directive and that that provision therefore does not preclude that host provider from being ordered to remove worldwide information disseminated via a social network platform. Nor is that territorial scope regulated by EU law, since in the present case the applicant’s action is not based on EU law.

(3)  Article 15(1) of Directive 2000/31 must be interpreted as meaning that it does not preclude a host provider from being ordered to remove information equivalent to the information characterised as illegal, provided that a removal obligation does not entail general monitoring of the information stored, and is the consequence of awareness resulting from the notification made by the person concerned, third parties or another source.

Neymar won a dispute about his name in EU

brazil-germany-1201762_960_720.jpgThe well-known Brazilian footballer Neymar has won a trademark dispute before the General Court of the European Union.

The case concerns a registered in 2012 European trademark NEYMAR in class 25  – Clothing, footwear, headgear, owned by Carlos Moreira.

The footballer filed a request for invalidation of this mark based on a claim that it is filed in bad faith.

The EUIPO invalidated the mark because of which Moreira appealed the decision.

The General Court confirmed the EUIPO conclusions that this sign has been filed in a bad faith.

According to the court, there were sufficient pieces of evidence that clearly showed the celebrity status of Neymar at the time when the application was filed. Because of his rising career, many football clubs have interest in him at that time. This generated serious media coverage.

In that regard, the Moreira’s claims that he didn’t know who Neymar was were dismissed.

Another negative point for Moreira was that at the moment when he filed an application for this trademark he did the same for another mark Iker Casillas which is the name of the former Real Madrid goalkeeper.

Source: WIPR.

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.