OSCAR trademark survived a revocation procedure in the EU

If one trademark is registered in the EU but its business model happens in a country outside the EU, whether this mark is regarded as used on the territory of the EU.

This was the question the Board of Appeal of the EUIPO had to answer in the dispute R 1841/2021-5, OSCAR.

The case concerns the European trademark OSCAR registered for class 41 – entertainment and educational services, namely, conducting an annual award ceremony recognizing exceptional achievement in the film industry.

Against this mark, an application for revocation was filed based on non-commercial use for 5 consecutive years.

The EUIPO dismissed the action entirely. Although the well-known OSCAR Awards ceremony takes place at a venue in Los
Angeles, the EU trademark was subject to different advertisement campaigns that targeted EU consumers. Advertisements on their own constitute a way of trademark use according to EU legislation.

In addition, the trademark owner has provided licenses for broadcasting of the ceremony to many EU television programs which in turn means commercial use of the sign.

The Oscar Awards show was watched by millions of Europeans, and the ceremony itself represents an entertaining service.

The Board of Appeal confirmed this decision.

Last year the EUIPO issued another decision for a similar case relating to hotel services where the hotels themselves were outside the territory of the EU.


How an abstract canine depiction reflects a trademark opposition in the EU?

The General Court of the European Union has ruled in the case T‑596/21 Société Elmar Wolf v Fuxtec GmbH.

The case concerns the similarity between figurative marks based on the meaning they can convey to the consumers.

Fuxtec GmbH is the owner of the following international mark, where the EU is designated, for classes 4, 7, 8, 12, and 35:

Against this mark, an opposition was filed by Société Elmar Wolf based on several earlier figurative marks in classes 7, 8, and 35:

The EUIPO dismissed the opposition finding both signs dissimilar. The case was appealed.

The General Court upheld the EUIPO decision entirely. According to the Court, the earlier marks convey a clear impression of canine while the later mark is rather abstract, as a result of its clean curved lines, its sharp edges, and the lack of figurative details.

Due to this fact, consumers would need to put more effort and thoughts in order to discover the meaning of the sign if this is possible at all. This prevents the possibility of consumer confusion.

By contrast, as the Board of Appeal pointed out, the shape exhibited by the contested sign is rather abstract, as a result of its clean curved lines, its sharp edges and the lack of figurative details. It is true that that sign includes elements which could be perceived by a non-negligible part of the relevant public as the contours of the front view of a face, ears pointing upwards, a muzzle pointing downwards and eyes. However, the representation of a head which may emerge is obviously less realistic and considerably more stylised than the silhouette illustrated by the earlier marks, which represents some of the favourite attributes, a slightly open mouth and a menacing expression, of the representation of the head of a canine and which the rather abstract silhouette in the mark applied for does not have. In those circumstances, it is unlikely that the average consumer, who normally perceives a mark as a whole and does not carry out an analysis of its details at the time of purchase, will be capable of spontaneously associating the contested sign with the head of an animal, or even with the head of a canine, without engaging in an analysis which goes beyond that expected at the time of purchase.

It follows that it must be held, as the Board of Appeal found, that the overall impression created by the contested sign makes the identification of the head of an animal, let alone of a particular animal, highly arbitrary and, consequently, that the signs at issue are visually similar at most to a low degree.

The argument of the opposition applicant that the earlier marks have a high degree of inherent distinctiveness because they do not convey any meaning in relation to the goods and services covered by them, was dismissed by the Court, which considers that such consideration is not enough a high level of distinctiveness to be proved.

Charlie Chaplin’s Charlot character cannot be trademarked in the EU

As it is well-known fictional characters can be registered as trademarks in many countries around the world. There are a lot of examples of such marks from Mickey Mouse and Superman to Super Mario.

The question is, however, what can represent an obstacle to the registration of these marks.

Recently, the EUIPO has issued a decision on a European trademark application for the following mark in classes 9 (scientific apparatus and instruments, photographic apparatus and instruments, cameras), 35 (advertising, business management, clerical services), 38 (telecommunication services), 41 (teaching, training, entertainment services), and 42 (computer software design):

The mark represents the great actor Charlie Chaplin in his most famous role as the Charlot character.

EUIPO refused to register this mark based on absolute grounds Article 7(1)(b) – (c) and 7(2) of Regulation 2017/1001 (EUTMR). According to the Office, consumers would perceive this character as conveying modern, liberal, and humanist values by denouncing totalitarianism and Nazi ideology.

This is the reason why consumers would perceive the image as an advertising approach to encourage sales based on the values attached to the Charlot character. From that perspective, it is not likely for consumers to get the image as a particular source of trade origin. This is emphasized by the widespread practice where famous people and characters are used for enforcement practices.

In addition, the image could be descriptive too if consumers consider the content of some services mentioned in the application as related to Charlot and Charlie Chaplin.

Source: IPKat.

Rolex lost a trademark dispute in the EU

Are clothes similar enough to watches – that’s the question The General Court of the European Union has ruled in recently  T‑726/21 Rolex SA v PWT A/S.

PWT filed a European trademark application for the following figurative mark for many classes including class 25 – clothing, footwear headgear:

Against this application an opposition was filed by Rolex SA based on the following trademarks in class 14 – watches, for which an established reputation was claimed:

The EUIPO decided that the goods in class 14 – watches and those in class 25 clothing, footwear headgear are not similar because of their different nature and intended purpose. While watches are perceived as accessories, the goods in class 25 aim to dress the human body.

In so far as the opposition was based on Article 8(5) of Regulation No 207/2009, it found that the reputation of the earlier purely figurative mark was not established and that the reputation of the earlier composite mark was established for wristwatches. It added that the latter mark and the mark applied for were, at most, visually similar to a very low degree, that a phonetic comparison was not possible between them, and that the conceptual similarity resulting from the common presence of a crown had a very limited impact. It inferred from this that the relevant public would not make a link between those marks, with the result that no risk of injury to the reputation of the earlier composite mark was established.

The General Court upheld this decision entirely. Regarding the goods similarity issue:

In the present case, the applicant merely alleges the growing importance of online trade, the growing tendency towards convergence of fashion and technology, including wristwear, and the supposed well-known fact, common in the fashion sector and usual for consumers, of seeing clothing and accessories, such as eyewear, jewelry and watches, being offered in the same sales outlets. However, it does not submit any evidence to that effect. The applicant adds that that practice results in a certain cognitive behavior and a certain state of mind, but without providing further detail.

In addition, it must be pointed out that the fact that the goods at issue may be sold in the same commercial establishments, such as department stores, is not particularly significant, since very different kinds of goods may be found in such shops, without consumers automatically believing that they have the same origin

Furthermore, the applicant’s arguments that the purchase of the goods at issue may be based on the search for an aesthetic complementarity must be rejected as ineffective. The applicant itself concedes that such a fact is insufficient to conclude that there is a similarity between those goods.

When it comes to the claimed reputation:

In order to benefit from the protection introduced by the provisions of Article 8(5) of Regulation No 207/2009, the proprietor of the earlier mark must, first of all, adduce proof, either that the use of the mark applied for would take unfair advantage of the distinctive character or the repute of the earlier mark, or that it would be detrimental to that distinctive character or that repute.

In that regard, although the proprietor of the earlier trade mark is not required to demonstrate actual and present injury to its mark for the purposes of Article 8(5) of Regulation No 207/2009, it must, however, prove that there is a serious risk that such an injury will occur in the future.

The Board of Appeal noted that, in order to demonstrate the existence of one of the types of injury referred to in Article 8(5) of Regulation No 207/2009, the applicant had not submitted observations to it, but that, before the Opposition Division, it had argued that the intervener could take unfair advantage of the degree of recognition of the earlier composite mark on account of the fact that the signs at issue were almost identical and the immense reputation acquired by the earlier marks, which allegedly convey images of prestige, luxury and an active lifestyle. It found that, by those arguments, the applicant had in fact merely referred to the wording of Article 8(5) of Regulation No 207/2009, without submitting any coherent arguments as to why one of such injuries would occur. The Board of Appeal inferred from this that no injury referred to in that provision was established.

It must be stated at the outset that the applicant’s arguments do not make it possible to identify the injury or injuries set out in Article 8(5) of Regulation No 207/2009 which might be caused to the earlier composite mark, to its detriment, by the use of the mark applied for.

Source: IPKat.

Is SHAVETTE a trademark or a generic name for razors in the EU?

The Board of Appeal of the EUIPO has ruled in the case related to the invalidation of the EU trademark SHAVETTE.

The mark was filed in 2014 by the German company DOVO Stahlwaren Bracht GmbH & Co.KG for the following classes:

  • Class 8: Razors, electric or non-electric, and parts therefor; Containers and cases
    for razors.
  • Class 21: Shaving brushes; Holders for razors and shaving brushes.

The production of SHAVETTE razors started in the 1980s by DOVO and since then they have gained serious popularity amongst consumers.

In 2018, another company Sinelco International, BV filed a request for a declaration of invalidity of the registered mark for all the above goods on the ground of Articles 59(1)(a) EUTMR in conjunction with Article 7(1)(c) and 7(1)(d) EUTMR:

The following shall not be registered:
(c) trade marks which consist exclusively of signs or indications which may serve, in trade, to designate the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin or the time of production of the goods or of rendering of the service, or other characteristics of the goods or service;
(d) trade marks which consist exclusively of signs or indications which have become customary in the current language or in the bona fide and established practices of the trade;

According to Sinelco, the word SHAVETTE is used by consumers as a generic term describing an entire category of razors with exchangeable blades. Evidence was submitted that shows such use by consumers in Sweden and the United Kingdom.

The Cancelation division of the EUIPO invalidated the mark agreeing that it is a generic term.

The fact that a trademark is being used as the common name to refer to a specific product or service is an indication that it has lost its ability to differentiate the goods or services in question from those of other undertakings. One indication that a trademark has become customary is when it is commonly used verbally to refer to a particular type or characteristic of the goods or services. It has been demonstrated that the contested trademark has become a name used as a synonym for straight razors with exchangeable blades so extensively that, as established by the cancellation applicant, in 2014 the trademark was not capable of differentiating the goods or services in question from those of other undertakings.

The decision was appealed and the Board of Appeal annulled it. One of the reasons is that the appeal happened after Brexit and the grace period that ended on 31.12.2021. This means that all evidence related to the UK is no more admissible no matter when the invalidation proceeding was started.

This is due, on the one hand, to the fact that the invalidity applicant has no interest to act where an absolute ground
only applies in relation to the UK. On the other hand, the above constitutes an application by analogy of Article 59(2) EUTMR and Article 209(2) EUTMR, which states that ‘the registration of an EU trademark which was under application at the date of accession may not be refused on the basis of any of the absolute grounds for refusal listed in Article 7(1) if these grounds became applicable merely because of the accession of a new Member State’. Finally, this is also confirmed by Article 54(3), 2nd sub-para, Withdrawal Agreement (‘WA’) according to which an equivalent UK trademark (that is a UK mark derived from a ‘parent’ EUTM according to Article 54(1)(a) ‘WA’) is not to be invalidated where the absolute ground of invalidity does not apply in the UK.

According to the Board, the rest of the evidence related to Sweden is not enough in order to support the conclusion that SHAVETTE is a common and generic name for razors.

This case shows us how important is for every company to communicate correctly that their mark is a source of trade origin and not a name of the related products or services. If this is not part of the marketing strategy of the company, in some cases there are some chances consumers to start indicating the whole product category using the same name which exposes the mark to the risk to be invalidated at some point.

Using a trademark as a decorative element is not the best option for its protection in the EU

The General Court of the European Union has ruled in the case T‑323/21 Castel Frères v Shanghai Panati Co., which reminds us how essential is one registered mark to be used correctly in order for its protection to be viable.

The case has the following background:

On 29 May 2018, Shanghai Panati Co filed an application with EUIPO for revocation of the EU trademark that had been registered further to an application filed on 17 March 2008 for the following figurative sign:

The goods covered by the contested mark, in respect of which a declaration of invalidity was sought, were inter alia in Class 33 of the Nice Agreement: ‘Still wines’.

The ground relied on in support of the application for revocation was the lack of genuine use of the contested mark within a continuous period of five years.

Evidence was submitted by Castel Frères that the mark was used for wine labels in the following way:

On 3 April 2020, the Cancellation Division rejected the application for revocation.

On 24 April 2020, Shanghai Panati Co. filed a notice of appeal with EUIPO against the decision of the Cancellation Division.

By the contested decision, the Board of Appeal upheld the appeal and revoked the contested mark. The Board of Appeal found, in essence, that the differences between the contested mark and the mark as used were such as to alter the distinctive character of the contested mark.

The Court upheld this decision.

According to the Court, it must be borne in mind that the contested mark in its registered form is a figurative mark consisting of three characters from the Chinese alphabet. As the Board of Appeal correctly notes the relevant public will not be able to verbalise or to memorise those Chinese characters, which will rather be perceived as meaningless, abstract signs or as decorative elements referring to China or to Asia. It is appropriate, therefore, to find that, with regard to the goods at issue, the Chinese characters forming the contested mark have a lower-than-average degree of distinctive character.

In that regard, it must be emphasised that on the product packaging or in the advertisements, the contested mark, which appears in a very small size, is almost systematically accompanied by the word elements ‘dragon de chine’ and by the representation of a dragon, which appear together and are very close to one another. Moreover, in so far as the contested mark is composed of three characters from the Chinese alphabet, in a very small size, the added elements are always clearly visible and dominate the overall impression.

The Board of Appeal was therefore right to find that the contested mark as used, that is to say, in an ancillary position and in a much smaller size than the distinctive and dominant word elements ‘dragon de chine’ and the representation of a dragon, would be perceived by the relevant public as a decorative element and not as an indication of origin of the goods.

That finding cannot be called into question by the argument that, in essence, it is common in the wine sector for two or more trademarks to be used jointly and autonomously on labels, with or without the name of the manufacturer’s company, as is the case here with the mark Dragon de Chine. It must be stated that the word elements ‘dragon de chine’ are always clearly visible in that they occupy a dominant position in the overall impression created by the mark as used. In any event, even if it were established that those elements are a trademark, the fact remains that that is not capable of weakening the alteration by those terms of the distinctive character of the contested mark, since the relevant public no longer perceives those three characters from the Chinese alphabet as an indication of the origin of the goods in question, in accordance with the case-law.

Having regard to the above examination of the distinctive and dominant character of the added elements, based on the intrinsic qualities of each of those elements and on the relative position of the various elements, it must be held that the variations in use demonstrated alter the distinctive character of the contested mark as registered, as the Board of Appeal rightly found.

This decision comes to remind us that one trademark should always be used as an indication of trade origin and not as a complimentary or decorative element. In a similar case, Apple lost a dispute regarding its trademark Think Differently because of the way the mark was used on the package of the product.

Copyrights may be for losers but trademarks are not – Banksy won a trademark dispute

The well-known graffiti artist Banksy has received some positive news recently regarding his attempt to take advantage of the IP system while not liking it or at least the copyright in particular.

The case concerns the following registered EU trademark, representing graffiti art painted by Banksy, in classes 9, 16, 25, 28 и 41:

The mark was registered by Pest Control Office Limited, a company managing artists’ legal rights, taking into account that he is anonymous and is famous with that status apart from his exciting artworks.

Against this mark, a request for invalidation was filed by Full Colour Black Limited on the ground of lack of distinctive character and bad faith.

The EUIPO Cancelation division invalidated the mark finding that it was made in bad faith. The reason for this was the fact that because of his anonymity the artist was unable to rely on copyright protection. What’s more, he is famous for his statement that copyright is for losers.

In another article, Banksy says “Sometimes you go to work and it’s hard to know what to paint, but for the past few months I’ve been making stuff for the sole purpose of fulfilling trademark categories under EU law”.

The Office considered all of this as the only reason why the artist wanted to register a trademark for his art, which will give him a tool to control its commercial use.

According to the Office:

From an examination of the evidence filed by both parties, it would appear that, at the time of filing of the application for invalidity, the EUTM proprietor (or Banksy) had never actually marketed or sold any goods or services under the contested EUTM. Moreover, some of the EUTM proprietor’s webpage extracts dated in 2010-2011 state that ‘All images are made available to download for personal amusement only, thanks. Banksy does not endorse or profit from the sale of greeting cards, mugs, t-shirts, photo canvases etc. …’, ‘Banksy does not produce greeting cards or print photo-canvases….Please take anything from this site and make your own (non-commercial use only thanks)’ and ‘Banksy has never produced greeting cards, mugs or photo canvases of his work’. Therefore, there is no evidence that Banksy was actually producing, selling or providing any goods or services under the contested sign prior to the date of filing of the contested EUTM.

The first evidence of sales appears to have happened just before the date of filing of the present application for a declaration of invalidity.

Taking all of that the Office considered that the mark was filed in bad faith.

The Board of Appealed, however, disagreed. According to the Board, the conclusion of the Consolation division was subjective. Bad faith cannot be assumed only based on single statements that do not show the entire position of the artist.

The Board cannot follow this view. Although the protection under copyright law is definite and ends 70 years after the death of the author whereas trade mark protection can in principle be indefinite, this circumstance does not mean that the
filing of a trademark consisting of a creation protected under copyright law is automatically unlawful and circumvents the copyright law. As stated above under paragraph 27, the same artwork can be protected by copyright as well as by trademark law.

The assumption that the need of staying anonymous was the reason to opt out from copyright protection and go for trademark protection, as submitted by the Cancellation applicant, even if it would be correct, cannot justify a finding that the
EUTM proprietor had no intention to use the contested mark.

Finally, the statement ‘Copyright is for losers’ has no bearing at all on the case at hand. The contested decision does not reason sufficiently about its finding of bad faith. It mainly bases its final findings on the supposition that the EUTM proprietor could
only with difficulties preventing its artwork under copyright and on the fact that it started only on October 2019 to use its mark and with the purpose to maintain the contested mark but not to use it according to the essential functions of a trademark.

The contested decision bases its finding on wrong facts because it has not been shown that on October 2019 the EUTM proprietor stated to use the contested mark. In any event, the reasons furnished in the contested decision cannot explain nor indicate that at the relevant filing date the EUTM proprietor had not intended to use its mark