The Advocate General of the European Court TANCHEV issued his opinion in the case C‑371/18 Sky plc, Sky International AG, Sky UK Limited v SkyKick UK Limited, SkyKick Inc. This case concerns one very trendy issue: to what extent the unreasonable wide scope of goods and services of one trademark application constitute bad faith. In details:
Sky is the owner of a family of SKY trademarks registered for different classes of goods and services such as 3, 4, 7, 9, 11, 12, 16, 17, 18, 25, 28 and 35 to 45.
Sky brought an action alleging that SkyKick had infringed those trade marks. For the purposes of their infringement claims, Sky rely upon the registrations of the trade marks in respect of the following goods and services (although not every trade mark is registered for all these goods and services): (i) computer software (Class 9); (ii) computer software supplied from the internet (Class 9); (iii) computer software and telecoms apparatus to enable connection to databases and the internet (Class 9); (iv) data storage (Class 9); (v) telecommunications services (Class 38); (vi) electronic mail services (Class 38); (vii) internet portal services (Class 38); and (viii) computer services for accessing and retrieving information/data via a computer or computer network (Class 38).
Sky have made extensive use of the trade mark SKY in connection with a range of goods and services, and in particular goods and services relating to Sky’s core business areas of (i) television broadcasting, (ii) telephony and (iii) broadband provision. SkyKick accept that, by November 2014, SKY was a household name in the United Kingdom and Ireland in those areas. However, Sky do not offer any email migration or cloud backup goods or services, nor is there any evidence that they plan to do so in the immediate future.
SkyKick contend that each of the trade marks should be declared (partly) invalid on the ground that they are registered for goods and services that are not specified with sufficient clarity and precision.
The referring court states that that contention raises two issues. The first issue is whether that ground for invalidity may be relied upon against a registered trade mark.
The judgment of 19 June 2012, Chartered Institute of Patent Attorneys (C‑307/10, EU:C:2012:361) established (and Article 33(2) of Regulation (EU) 2017/1001 (4) now requires) that an applicant for a trade mark must specify the goods and services in respect of which registration is sought with sufficient clarity and precision to enable the competent authorities and third parties to determine on the basis of that term alone the extent of the protection conferred by the trade mark. If the applicant fails to do so, the competent authority should refuse to allow the application to proceed to registration without the specification being amended to make it sufficiently clear and precise.
According to the referring court, it does not necessarily follow that, if the applicant fails to do so and the authority fails to ensure that the applicant rectifies the lack of clarity or precision during the examination of the application, the trade mark can be declared invalid on that ground after registration. The grounds for invalidity listed in the regulation do not contain any express requirement that the specification of goods and services in an application for registration of an EU trade mark should be clear and precise. The position is, in essence, the same in relation to a national trade mark.
The second issue raised by the referring court is whether, if the ground for invalidity can be relied upon, the specifications of any of the trade marks are objectionable.
The referring court considers that registration of a trade mark for ‘computer software’ is too broad, unjustified and contrary to the public interest. However, it also states that it does not necessarily follow that that term is lacking in clarity and precision. Indeed, it appears prima facie to be a term whose meaning is reasonably clear and precise. Thus, it is sufficiently clear and precise to make it possible to decide whether SkyKick’s goods are identical to it. On the other hand, the referring court finds it difficult to see why the reasoning of the Trade Mark Offices forming the European Trade Mark and Design Network (TMDN), as set out in the Common Communication of 20 November 2013, with regard to ‘machines’ in Class 7 is not equally applicable to ‘computer software’. (5)
Moreover, the referring court queries whether the validity of the marks at issue may be affected by the applicant’s bad faith at the moment of applying for registration of the trade marks.
SkyKick contend in the main proceedings that the trade marks were registered in bad faith because Sky did not intend to use the trade marks in relation to all of the goods and services specified in the respective specifications. SkyKick accept that Sky intended to use the trade marks in relation to some of the goods and services specified. Nevertheless, SkyKick’s primary case is that the trade marks are invalid in their entirety. In the alternative, SkyKick’s secondary case is that the trade marks are invalid to the extent to that the specifications cover goods and services for which Sky had no intention to use the trade marks.
The referring court states that, in comparison with the case-law of the Courts of the European Union, UK courts and tribunals have focused more closely on the requirement of intention to use, on account of the role that section 32(3) of the United Kingdom Trade Marks Act 1994 (‘the 1994 Act’) plays in the UK trade mark system. (6)
However, the referring court queries whether that provision is compatible with EU law. Should it be held to be compatible, then the referring court also has doubts as to the scope of the requirement of intention to use the trade mark.
Therefore, the High Court of Justice (England and Wales), Chancery Division, decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:
‘(1) Can an EU trade mark or a national trade mark registered in a Member State be declared wholly or partially invalid on the ground that some or all of the terms in the specification of goods and services are lacking in sufficient clarity and precision to enable the competent authorities and third parties to determine on the basis of those terms alone the extent of the protection conferred by the trade mark?
(2) If the answer to [the first] question is [in the affirmative], is a term such as “computer software” too general and [does it cover] goods which are too variable to be compatible with the trade mark’s function as an indication of origin for that term to be sufficiently clear and precise to enable the competent authorities and third parties to determine on the basis of that term alone the extent of the protection conferred by the trade mark?
(3) Can it constitute bad faith simply to apply to register a trade mark without any intention to use it in relation to the specified goods or services?
(4) If the answer to [the third] question is [in the affirmative], is it possible to conclude that the applicant made the application partly in good faith and partly in bad faith if and to the extent that the applicant had an intention to use the trade mark in relation to some of the specified goods or services, but no intention to use the trade mark in relation to other specified goods or services?
(5) Is section 32(3) of the UK Trade Marks Act 1994 compatible with [Directive (EU) 2015/2436 (7)] and its predecessors?’
The Advocate General’s opinion:
(1) A registered EU trade mark or national trade mark may not be declared wholly or partially invalid on the sole ground that some or all of the terms in the specification of goods and services lack sufficient clarity and precision. A lack of clarity and precision in the specification of goods and services may nevertheless be taken into account when assessing the scope of protection to be given to such a registration.
(2) However, the requirement of clarity and precision may be covered by the ground for refusal or invalidity of marks which are contrary to public policy, as laid down in Article 3(1)(f) of First Council Directive 89/104 and Article 7(1)(f) of Council Regulation No 40/94 , in so far as registration of a trade mark for ‘computer software’ is unjustified and contrary to the public interest. A term such as ‘computer software’ is too general and covers goods and services which are too variable to be compatible with the trade mark’s function as an indication of origin for that term to be sufficiently clear and precise to enable the competent authorities and third parties to determine on the basis of that term alone the extent of the protection conferred by the trade mark.
(3) In certain circumstances, applying for registration of a trade mark without any intention to use it in connection with the specified goods or services may constitute an element of bad faith, in particular where the sole objective of the applicant is to prevent a third party from entering the market, including where there is evidence of an abusive filing strategy, which it is for the referring court to ascertain.
(4) In the light of Article 13 of Directive 89/104 and Article 51(3) of Regulation No 40/94, where the ground for invalidity exists in respect of only some of the goods or services for which the trade mark is registered, the trade mark is to be declared invalid as regards those goods or services only.
(5) Section 32(3) of the United Kingdom Trade Mark Act 1994 is compatible with Directive 89/104 provided that it is not the sole basis for a finding of bad faith.