Breaking news – Bad faith, goods and services, and trademark applications

startup-photos.jpgThe 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.

Advertisements

Adidas won against a marijuana sign in the UK

pexels-photo-606506.jpegThe UKIPO has ruled in a case where the German sportswear manufacturer Adidas initiated cancelation procedure against a UK trademark ADDICTED,  covering clothing as well as various retail, retail finance, and interior design services. Adidas invoked its earlier combined trademark for the same goods and services.

5760c125-a3d0-479f-bdf2-d7e77a73152c.png

The grounds for this cancelation were a similarity between the signs, a trademark with reputation and possible unfair competition and tarnishment.

According to the Office, there is no enough similarity between the signs although there is some visual one. Nevertheless, the later mark is not able to create any confusion in the consumer mind regarding the trade origin of the products.

When it comes to taking advantages from the earlier trademark’s reputation, unfair competition, and tarnishment, the UKIPO concluded that there is such a possibility because of which canceled the trademark.

The reasons for this are that for the time being marijuana as a product cannot be freely and legally used. On top of that, the word “Addicted” makes consumer perception even worse. From that perspective, there is a chance when the later mark is used on clothes to create some negative associations and because of its visual similarity with the Adidas trademark these negatives to be transferred to the earlier mark. Apart from this, the later trademark can take advantages of the Adidas reputation on the market that has been built for many years.

Source: Jocelyn Clarke and Christopher Benson, Taylor Wessing за Lexology.

Honda won a trademark dispute in the UK

photo-1505326841080-510ac2d537c9.jpgHonda won an opposition in the UK against an application for a trademark ‘Vtecdirect’ in class 37 for the “the fitting and installation of Vehicle parts; the maintenance, repair, and servicing of vehicles”.

Against this mark, the Japanese company invoked its earlier mark for ‘VTEC’ in class 12.

According to the Patent Office, there is a similarity between both signs that can create consumer confusion. Both trademarks are visually similar due to the VTEC part which has a leading position. Although DIRECT word creates some conceptual difference it is not enough to overcome the similarity especially taking into account the fact that this word is not so distinctive.

The applicant’s argument that there was no confusion because both companies have different business models and in fact, its services enhance Honda’s sales were been dismissed. The trademark role is to indicate trade origin not to promote someone else’s brand.

Source: WIPR.

Uber won another trademark dispute in the UK

pexels-photo-417005Uber won an opposition in the UK against a trademark application ‘ChefUber’ applied for in class 35 – recruitment services in the catering trade.

Against this application, Uber invoked several of its earlier UBER trademarks for the same class including the UberEats trademark used for food delivery. According to the company its marks are similar to the later one in a greate scale.

The Applicant argued that there is no similarity due to the fact that the first part of its mark is Chef, which makes the sign to stand alone.

The Patent Office came to the conclusion that the services between the trademarks at hand are similar or identical.

When it comes to the sign, the Office considered them confusingly similar. The fact that there is a Chef in front of Uber in the later mark is not enough to overcome this possibility because this word is not distinctive and it is even descriptive for the listed services.

What’s more, the Office considered that the later sign tries to take advantage of the Uber reputation as a brand on the market.

Source: WIPR.

EasyJet won a dispute against EZY.COM in the UK

plane-841441_960_720.jpgThe UK airline company EasyGroup won an invalidation procedure against the UK registered trademark EZY.COM in class 41.

The base for this invalidation was earlier trademarks EASY.COM and EASYJET for class 41.

According to the company, there was a serious possibility for consumer confusion including because of the fact that EASYJET has a reputation in the UK and because EZY was the airline code of the company.

The UKIPO upheld the opposition confirming the possible consumer confusion due to the phonetic and visual similarities between the signs which are registered for identical and similar services.

Source: WIPR.

Uber won a dispute in the UK

london-722520_960_720Uber succeeded in an opposition procedure against the following UK trademark application:

GB50000000003168791.jpg

This sign was filed for the following goods and services:

In Class 9: Mobile phones and accessories; batteries; battery charges; media for storing
information, data, signals, images and/or sounds; photographic apparatus and instruments; parts and fittings for the aforesaid goods.

In Class 35: Retail services connected with the sale of mobile phones and accessories;
batteries; battery charges; media for storing information, data, signals, images and/or sounds; photographic apparatus and instruments; parts and fittings for the aforesaid goods”.

In Class 38: Advisory and consultancy services relating to communications apparatus,
equipment and accessories; rental and hire of communications apparatus, equipment, and accessories; provision of information relating to communications apparatus, equipment and accessories”.

Uber invoked a family of earlier Uber trademarks against this application, for the same classes, stating possible consumer confusion.

According to the UKIPO the goods and services of the marks were identical or complementary.

The applicant tried to claim that Uberfone poses a specific meaning in German which is to something “superb or happy”.

The Office dismissed it considering that the German language is not so popular in the UK and most of the people wouldn’t be able to get the meaning.

Taking into account the phonetic and visual similarities between the signs, the UKIPO upheld the opposition.

Source: WIPR.

A successful indigo battle for O2 in The UK

telephone-booth-768610_960_720.jpgThe UK telecom O2 successfully won an opposition against a UK trademark application for Indigo Blue applied for class 41:

Arranging and conducting of concerts; Services for the showing of video recordings; Services providing entertainment in the form of live musical performances; Showing of prerecorded entertainment; Singing concert services; Song publishing; Song writing services; Songwriting; Sound recording and video entertainment services; Sound recording services; Sound recording studio services; Music concerts; Music entertainment services; Music festival services; Music performance services; Music performances; Music production; Music publishing; Music publishing and music recording services; Music publishing services; Music recording studio services; Musical concert services; Musical concerts by radio; Musical concerts by television; Musical entertainment services; Musical performances; Entertainer services; Entertainer services provided by musicians; Entertainment; Entertainment by means of concerts; Entertainment by means of radio; Entertainment by means of roadshows; Entertainment by means of telephone; Entertainment by means of television; Entertainment in the form of live musical performances (Services providing – );Entertainment in the form of recorded music (Services providing -);Entertainment in the form of television programmes (Services providing -);Entertainment services; Entertainment services for matching users with audio and video recordings; Entertainment services for matching users with computer games; Entertainment services for producing live shows; Entertainment services for sharing audio and video recordings; Entertainment services in the form of concert performances; Entertainment services in the form of musical vocal group performances; Entertainment services performed by a musical group; Entertainment services performed by musicians; Entertainment services performed by singers; Entertainment services provided by a music group; Entertainment services provided by a musical group; Entertainment services provided by a musical vocal group; Entertainment services provided by performing artists; Entertainment services provided by vocalists.

O2 invoked rights over several of its earlier EU trademarks for INDIGO  and INDIGO2 for the same class.

According to the UKIPO, both signs are very similar because of the word INDIGO. The difference between them is the word Blue and the number 2.

From a conceptual point of view, the trademarks are almost identical bearing in mind that for some of the consumers Indigo is a shade of blue. A slight difference can arise only if Indigo is perceived as purple. However, even in that case, both colors are closed.

Taking into account that the first part of the marks is identical, the UKIPO uphold the opposition in its entirety.

This is yet another case which comes to show how important is preliminary trademark clearance search. This search can help a lot in the assessment of the chances one sign has to be registered as a trademark and from another hand to avoid eventual disputes.

It is always advisable to do your homework before to file an application. This will save you time and money.

Source: WIPR.