Red Bull attacked successfully a Portuguese trademark with a bull depiction

Red Bull won a dispute against a trademark with the depiction of a bull and one of the reasons for this result was the available reputation of the company’s trademarks.

Two individuals filed 2020 the following trademark application in Portugal for classes 25 and 41:

Against this application an opposition was filed by Red Bull based on the following several earlier marks for the same classes of goods and services:

Apart from this, the company claimed a proven reputation for these trademarks in Portugal.

The Patent Office dismissed the opposition despite the reputation of the Red Bull’s marks. The reason for this was the fact that the Office didn’t find similarities between the signs. The decision was appealed.

The Court overturned the Office decision, concluding that the mark applied for and the earlier sign was similar enough.

From one side, the word parts RED BULL and BULLS were similar from a phonetic, visual, and conceptual point of view.

From another side, the depictions of bulls were similar too, at least to a minimum degree. Taking into account the proven reputation of the Red Bulls’ marks, which gives stronger protection, the Court concluded that signs were similar and that the later mark could take advantage of the available reputation of the earlier marks.

This comes to show us that some attempts for circumventing the protection of reputable marks could be really risky and unsuccessful acts.

Source: Paulo Monteverde or Joana Cunha Reis for Lexology.

Can anyone register an EU trademark for Powerball?

Filing a trademark application in bad faith can jeopardise seriously trademark’s future protection because legislation allows such marks to be canceled.

One interesting example of such consequences is from the EU, where the Gibraltar-based company for online bets Lottoland successfully registered a trademark for “Powerball” in classes 35, 41, and 42.

As it is well-known “Powerball” is a US lottery, probably one of the most famous in the entire world, with a record jackpot of $1.5 billion USD.

The lottery is organized by the US Multi-State Lottery Association, whose EU trademark for Powerball was revoked based on non-use for 5 consecutive years.

When the US Accossiation found out about the later trademark Powerball it filed a cancelation request with the EUIPO claiming bad faith. According to the Association, the purpose of the Gibraltar company was to mislead the EU consumers about the real organizer of the lottery. Evidence for such dishonest behavior was the fact that Lottoland registered trademarks for other lotteries such as  EuroMillions and EuroJackpot whose organizers are different.

In contrast, Lottoland counterclaimed that its trademark was legally registered because Powerball has no reputation amongst the consumers in the EU.

The EUIPO agreed with the US Association and canceled the EU mark based on bad faith attempt in regard to its registration. According to the Office, there is no need for one trademark to be known in the EU in order bad faith claim to be possible. The Office considered Lottoland’s behavior dishonest, trying to restrict the real owner of the mark to use it in the EU as well as all other market participants, from one side, and to mislead consumers, from another.

The conclusion of this case is that you need to bear in mind the fact that although one trademark protection has lapsed, this does not mean automatically the sign can be used by someone else. Such use should be analyzed carefully considering all facts and risks.

Source: FRKelly – Adam Flynn for Lexology.

Be careful with non-distinctive elements in case of trademark protection

One of the main requirements for the registration of trademarks is for the relevant sign to be distinctive and not descriptive of the goods or services mentioned in the application for protection.

Nevertheless, not distinctive signs can be protected if they are in combination with other, however, distinctive, elements such as text, colors, graphics, etc.

The problem with such trademarks is that they are weak when it comes to their not distinctive elements because such elements can be used by others in most cases.

One example of this issue is a dispute in Denmark between the following marks for class 5:

v

According to the Danish Court, both signs are not confusingly similar. The reason is that the words YUMMY and YUMMI have a meaning of something tasty, and pleasing in English, a language with which the Danes are familiar enough. The different letter I at the end of one of the signs cannot change this conclusion. Based on this, the Court considered these elements not distinctive for the assessment of the signs.

In regard to the other words included in the marks, GUMMI is understood as a short word for fruit gum in Danish and it is not distinctive too, while VITA means life, which creates a different conceptual meaning of the mark.

Because of this, the signs are considered dissimilar although the goods in class 5 are similar.

Source: Louise Thorning Ahle for Kluwer Trademark Blog.

Is there bad faith in the case of new registration of former trademarks?

Is it possible for an old former trademark that is not protected anymore to be registered by a new owner and whether this can be a bad faith practice? This is the question to which the General Court of the European Union has answered recently in the case T‑250/21 Ladislav Zdút v EUIPO: The case has the following background:

On 6 May 2013,  Ladislav Zdút filed an application for registration of an EU trademark with EUIPO for the following sign:

The goods for which registration was sought were:

–  Class 18: ‘Leather and imitations of leather, and goods made of these materials and not included in other classes; Animal skins, hides; Trunks and travelling bags; Umbrellas and parasols; Walking sticks’;

–  Class 24: ‘Bed covers; Table covers’;

–  Class 25: ‘Clothing, footwear, headgear’.

The mark was registered on 31 October 2014 under number 11794112.

On 17 June 2019, the interveners, Ms Isabel Nehera, Mr Jean-Henri Nehera and Ms Natacha Sehnal, filed an application for a declaration of invalidity against that mark (‘the contested mark’), in accordance with the provisions of Article 59(1)(b) of Regulation 2017/1001, in respect of all the goods covered by that mark. They claimed that the applicant was acting in bad faith when he filed the application for registration of the contested mark. They stated, inter alia, that in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s, their grandfather, Mr Jan Nehera, had established a business marketing clothing and accessories and had filed and used a national mark identical to the contested mark (‘the former Czechoslovak trademark’).

By decision of 22 April 2020, the Cancellation Division of EUIPO dismissed the application for a declaration of invalidity, on the ground that the applicant’s bad faith when he filed the contested mark had not been established.

On 15 June 2020, the applicants filed a notice of appeal with EUIPO, pursuant to Articles 66 to 71 of Regulation 2017/1001, against the decision of the Cancellation Division.

By the contested decision, the Second Board of Appeal of EUIPO upheld the interveners’ appeal, annulled the decision of the Cancellation Division, and declared the contested mark invalid.

In essence, the Board of Appeal found that the former Czechoslovak trademark was a well-known mark and had been put to genuine use in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. It held that the applicant was aware of the existence and celebrity both of Mr Jan Nehera and of the former Czechoslovak trademark, which retained a certain surviving reputation. The Board of Appeal also stated that the applicant had attempted to create an association between himself and that former Czechoslovak trademark. In those circumstances, the Board of Appeal considered that the applicant’s intention was to take unfair advantage of the reputation of Mr Jan Nehera and of the former Czechoslovak trademark. It found that the applicant was acting in bad faith when he filed the application for registration of the contested mark.

The decision was appealed.

According to the Court, the fact that one mark was been protected in the past, being reputable amongst consumers, does not mean automatically that every new application for the same mark will be deemed as made in bad faith. It is necessary for the reputation of the old mark still to exist and the bad faith actions to be proved.

According to the Court:

However, it should be borne in mind that, according to the case-law, the existence on the part of the relevant public of a link between a later trademark and a former sign or name cannot be sufficient, on its own, to support a finding that unfair advantage was taken of the reputation of the sign or of the former name.

In addition, it should be noted that the concept of unfair advantage being taken of the reputation of a sign or a name covers a situation in which a third party rides on the coat-tails of a formerly renowned sign or name in order to benefit from its power of attraction, its reputation and its prestige and, without any financial compensation and without having to make any efforts of its own in that regard, to exploit the commercial effort expended by the proprietor or user of that sign or of that name in order to create and maintain the image of that sign or of that name.

However, in the present case, the applicant claims, unchallenged either by EUIPO or by the interveners, that in 2013, the former Czechoslovak trademark and the name of Mr Jan Nehera were completely forgotten by the relevant public, and that he himself devoted considerable effort, time and money to revive the Nehera mark and to make known the history of Mr Jan Nehera and of his business. It follows that, far from merely having exploited in a parasitic way the past reputation of the former Czechoslovak trademark and the name of Mr Jan Nehera, the applicant made his own commercial efforts in order to revive the image of the former Czechoslovak trademark and thus, at his own expense, to restore that reputation. In those circumstances, the mere fact of having referred, for the purposes of promoting the contested mark, to the historic image of Mr Jan Nehera and of the former Czechoslovak trademark does not appear to be contrary to honest practices in industrial or commercial matters.

Secondly, and in any event, the former Czechoslovak trademark and Mr Jan Nehera’s name no longer benefited from any legal protection in favour of a third party at the date on which the application for registration of the contested mark was filed (see paragraphs 42 and 43 above). It follows that Mr Jan Nehera’s descendants and heirs did not hold any right that might be susceptible to fraud or to being usurped by the applicant. Therefore it does not appear that, in applying for registration of the contested mark, the applicant intended to defraud the descendants and heirs of Mr Jan Nehera or to usurp their alleged rights.

In the fifth and last place, EUIPO claims, as the Board of Appeal stated in paragraph 36 of the contested decision, that the concept of bad faith does not necessarily imply any degree of moral turpitude.

In that regard, it is sufficient to note that, according to the case-law cited in paragraph 23 above, the concept of bad faith presupposes the presence of a dishonest state of mind or intention. In the present case, EUIPO and the interveners have not established that the applicant was driven by a dishonest state of mind or intention when he filed the application for registration of the contested mark.

It follows from all of the foregoing that the Board of Appeal erred in finding that the applicant intended to take unfair advantage of the reputation of Mr Jan Nehera and of the former Czechoslovak trademark and in finding that he was acting in bad faith when filing the application for registration of the contested mark.

Facebook faces a trademark lawsuit for its META rebranding

As it is well-known, Facebook rebranded itself as a company to META in 2021. The main goal was for this name to fit better with the future development of the company, and in particular with the emergence of the metaverse as a new virtual world.

Facebook filed a trademark for META, and this blog has already discussed the probabilities of potential legal conflicts taking into consideration numerous early registered trademarks for META around the world including in the US.

So it is of no surprise that a trademark infringement lawsuit has been filed in New York against Facebook by a company named METAx LLC.

This company claimed the use of the META brand since 2010 in relation to VR and augmented reality technologies. What’s more, the company owns two earlier US trademarks:

No. 5,194,332, registered in class 35: Organizing and holding special events for commercial, promotional or advertising purposes; Event planning and management for the marketing, branding, promotion or advertising of the goods and services of third parties; Social media strategy and marketing consulting focused on helping clients create and expand their product and brand strategies by building virally engaging marketing solutions; Special event planning for business purposes; Arranging, organizing and conducting live interactive marketing promotional events for business promotional purposes, and

No. 6,055,841, registered in class 41: Media production services, namely, video and film production; Entertainment, namely, production of community sporting and cultural events using digital, virtual and augmented reality filmmaking and interactive displays of lights, sound and motion; Special event planning for social entertainment purposes.

According to METAx, Facebook has been aware of its business and trademarks since 2017 when there was communication between both companies.

To what extent this lawsuit can be successful depends on the particular facts. What is for sure is that Facebook can face more similar conflicts in the future taking into account the bunch of early registered Meta trademarks for similar goods and services. One possible defensive strategy for Facebook could be to claim a low-distinctive character of the word META at least for services related to the metaverse.

In general, the main rule when someone wants to file a trademark is to check for earlier rights and to avoid possible conflicts which can lead to complex lawsuits and a lot of expenditures. Of course, there is another strategy, that however requires deep pockets for out-of-court agreements.

Source: Reuters.

Denmark lost a dispute regarding Feta cheese produced only for export from the territory of the EU

The European Court has ruled in the case C‑159/20 the European Commission v the Kingdom of Denmark which closed the door to one of the few misunderstandings regarding the scope of geographical indication protection in the EU.

In the case at hand, Greek complained before the Commission that cheese manufacturers from Denmark use the protected geographical indication Feta by labeling their products as ‘Danish Feta’ and ‘Danish Feta cheese’. Denmark refused to prohibit such use on its territory stating that the production was only for export purposes not for sale on the territory of the EU. According to the Kingdom, this type of GI use was not prohibited by the EY Regulations.

The European Commission disagreed and initiated a lawsuit against Denmark. The Advocate General issued its opinion that reasonings are now upheld by the Court.

According to the Court’s decision:

Recital 18 of Regulation No. 11512012 states that the specific objectives of PDO and PGI protection are to ensure fair income for farmers and producers according to the qualities and characteristics of a given product or its production method and to provide clear information about products with specific characteristics related to geographic origin, thereby enabling consumers to make more informed purchasing choices.

In addition, it follows from the Court’s practice that the purpose of the PDO and PGI protection system is mainly to guarantee consumers that agricultural products bearing a registered name have certain specific characteristics due to their origin in a certain geographical area and therefore provide a guarantee of quality due to their geographical origin in order to allow agricultural operators who have made a genuine effort to improve quality to receive higher incomes in return and to prevent third parties from unfairly benefiting from the reputation, related to the quality of those products (judgments of 17 December 2020, Syndicat interprofessional de défense du Fromage Morbier, C‑490/19, EU:C:2020:1043, paragraph 35 and the case-law cited and by the analogy of 9 September 2021, Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, C‑783/19, EU:C:2021:713, paragraph 49).

Since the Kingdom of Denmark points out that it follows from these objectives that Regulation No 1151/2012 is aimed at introducing a system of protection of PDOs and PGIs for products placed on the internal market because the said users are those in the Union, it should be noted that this regulation clearly applies to these users and not to users in third countries. Indeed, that regulation, adopted on the basis of Article 118 TFEU, concerns the functioning of the internal market and, as that Member State points out, is aimed at the integrity of the internal market and consumer information in the Union.

It should also be noted that the objective of informing consumers and the objective of guaranteeing a fair income for producers in accordance with the qualities of their products are interrelated, since informing consumers is aimed in particular, as is clear from the case law, at this to allow agricultural operators who have made real efforts to improve quality to receive higher incomes in return.

However, as follows from recital 18 and from Article 4(a) of Regulation No 1151/2012, the objective of guaranteeing fair income to producers in accordance with the qualities of their products is itself an objective pursued by that regulation. This also applies to the purpose of ensuring the respect of intellectual property rights enshrined in Article 1, letter c) of this Regulation.

It is clear, however, that the use of the PDO ‘Feta’ to designate products produced in the territory of the Union which do not comply with the product specification of that PDO affects the two stated objectives, even if those products are intended for export to third countries.

Finally, as regards compliance with the principle of legal certainty, it should be noted that, undoubtedly, Regulation No. 1151/2012 does not explicitly state that it also applies to products produced in the Union for the purpose of export to third countries. However, in view in particular of the general and unequivocal nature of Articles 13, 36, and 37 of Regulation No 1151/2012, which do not provide for an exception to such products, and the fact that the said objectives are clearly stated in Articles 1 and 4 of that Regulation, Article 13(3) thereof appears clear and unequivocal in so far as it obliges Member States to take appropriate administrative and judicial measures to prevent or suspend the use of a PDO or a PGI to designate products produced on their territory that do not comply of the applicable product specification, including where these products are intended for export to third countries.

Based on the stated considerations, the Court decided:

By failing to prevent or stop the use by Danish milk producers of the Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) ‘Feta’ to designate cheese that does not comply with the product specification of that PDO, the Kingdom of Denmark has failed to fulfill its obligations under Article 13(3) of Regulation (EU) No. 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs.

(unofficial translation)

Can Hallmark be a trademark for real estate?

The Federal Court in Canada has issued a decision regarding the option for registration of descriptive and low-distinctive signs.

In the case at hand, a trademark application for HALLMARK was filed that covers real estate services.

Against this application an opposition arises based, among others, on a claim for descriptiveness and non-distinctiveness of the sign. In English HALLMARK means a distinctive characteristic of something or someone related to excellence. The word is used for indication of gold, silver, etc. quality characteristics. Based on this the opponent claimed that the mark applied for has a laudatory meaning.

The Patent Office disagreed and dismissed the opposition. According to the Office descriptiveness of a term requires a “clear” meaning related to the goods and services mentioned in the trademark application.

Although the word Hallmark has a laudatory characteristic it does not relate directly to the real estate business. In regard to the non-distinctiveness, the opponent failed to provide any evidence that the sign has been commonly used in Canada for respecting services.

In the appeal, the Court upheld this decision stating that descriptiveness requires a clear connection with the goods and services in the application. Only abstract or associate meaning is not enough in order for this claim to be successful. The fact that one word is a laudatory term does not mean automatically that it cannot be a protected trademark as remains the case with suggestive trademarks that has an associative meaning which requires intellectual efforts from the public in order the connection with the goods and services to be discovered.

Source:  John McKeown, Goldman Sloan Nash & Haber LLP