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.

Advertisements

Partial success for Cadbury over color trademarks dispute in the UK

night-photograph-starry-sky-night-sky-star-957040.jpegThe UKIPO has ruled in oppositions against the following trademark applications all for class 30, filed by Cadbury:

GB50000000003019362.jpg– № 3019361, with the following description: The colour purple (Pantone 2685C), as shown on the form of application, applied to the packaging of goods.

GB50000000003019362.jpg– № 3019362, with the following description: The colour purple (Pantone 2685C), as shown on the form of application, applied to the whole visible surface of the packaging of the goods.

GB50000000003019362.jpg– № 3025822, with the following description: The colour purple (Pantone 2685C), shown on the form of application.

Against these applications Nestle filed oppositions with the following arguments:

  • The reference in the description to a Pantone number is a necessary but not
    sufficient condition for the Application to comply with Section 1(1);
  • The reference in the description to something “being shown on the form of
    application” does not comply with the requirement of being self-contained,
    intelligible and/or accessible. The application form does not form part of the
    public register and those consulting the public register are unable to ascertain
    from that the nature of the material referred to in the description.
  • The reference in the description to something being “applied to the packaging
    of the goods” imports a reference to a means of configuration or
    representation which is not shown on the register and which may comprise a
    potentially limitless number of signs/means of representation.
  • The reference in the description to “the whole visible surface” is inherently
    ambiguous because the public and competitors will assume – and the
    applicant intends – that less than the whole visible surface is in fact meant by
    the words “whole visible surface” since products of this kind must of necessity
    bear words, logos and other elements of different colours on the surface of
    the packaging.

The UKIPO agreed that in the case of trademarks 3019361 and 3025822 their descriptions create ambiguity regarding what exactly these signs represent.

Regarding trademark 3019362, however, the UKIPO considered that the above-mentioned conclusion is not relevant because the trademark’s description gives an idea of what exactly trademark dimensions are.

Source: WIPR.

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’):

download.png

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.

The Black and white trademark color dominance in Sweden is over

sunnana-harbour-2914389_960_720.jpgHans Eriksson published an intriguing article for IPKat discussing the issue on color assessment of trademarks in Sweden.

Until that moment, the Swedish practice in that regard was to accept that trademarks in black and white covers all color combinations for the purpose of trademark assessment in case of disputes.

Not any more. The Swedish Patent Office and the Swedish court change that position implementing the European court decision in case C-252/12 Specsavers, according to which the registration of a trademark in black and white cannot be granted a scope of protection that automatically covers all possible color combinations.

Sweden alongside Denmark and Norway was one of the few countries in the EU which has continuously used this broader approach in color assessment of trademarks.

This change of the local practice will reflect on all future applicant who has to bear in mind that when they build their trademarks strategies for the territory of Sweden.

The full article can be found here.