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Posts from — July 2009

LEGO brick – trademark cancelled

The German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has confirmed the decision of the Federal Patent Court in regards to the cancellation of the registration of the LEGO brick as a trademark.

The LEGO brick had been registered as a three dimensional mark with the German Patent and Trademark Office in 1996. The cancellation is based on an infringement of Sec. 3 subsection 2 no. 2 of the German Trademark Act (MarkenG) pursuant to which signs consisting exclusively of a shape necessary to obtain a technical result are not capable of protection as a trade mark.

The court considered the brick’s cubic shape as irrelevant in regards to trademark registration. Pursuant to Sec. 3 subsec. 2 no. 1 German Trademark Act signs consisting exclusively of a shape resulting from the nature of the goods do not qualify as a trademark. Hence, to decide whether the LEGO’s brick could be trademarked, the focus was on the brick’s upperside burlings only.

However, the court argued that the function of these burlings is of technical nature only (“connectors”) which pursuant to Sec. 3 subsection 2 no. 2 of the German Trademark Act prevents a mark from being protected.

The underlying principle of Sec. 3 subsec. 2 German Trademark Act is the idea that – in the interest of free competition – certain shapes can not be protected as a trademark.

So far, in this matter only the press release has been published.

(Federal Court of Justice -16. Jul. 2009 – I ZB 53/07 and I ZB 55/07)

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July 26, 2009   4 Comments

State emblems as trade marks – an almost impossible transformation

In this case the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had to decide about the registration of a State emblem (the Canadian maple leave emblem) as a Community trade mark. The underlying question was what scope of protection provided by Art. 6ter of the Paris Convention to State emblems and whether this Article also applies to service marks.

The Belgian company “American Clothing Associates” had filed an application for a Community trade mark (Nice Classes 18, 25 and 40). The sign in question was representing a maple leaf with the letters “RW” beneath it. The application was rejected based on Article 7(1) of Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 establishing an absolute ground for refusal in regards to registration of State emblems in conjunction with Article 6ter of the Paris Convention.

American Clothing Associates filed action with the Court of First Instance but wasn’t successful. Finally, American Clothing Associates filed an appeal with the ECJ on the grounds that the Court of First Instance didn’t apply Article 7(1)(h) of Regulation No 40/94 and Article 6ter(1)(a) of the Paris Convention properly mainly due to a misinterpretation of the relevance of the essential function of State emblems.

American Clothing Associates argued that the scope of protection of Article 6ter (1)(a) of the Paris Convention is only to protect State emblems from imitations in a heraldic sense. Not the symbol itself is protected but the specific graphic work. Thus emblems without heraldic characteristics are not covered by the scope of Article 6ter (1)(a) of the Paris Convention.

The ECJ dismissed the appeal brought by American Clothing Associates. This was mainly based on the finding that the scope of protection of Article 6ter of the Paris Convention is absolute and “… does not depend on whether the emblem imitated in a trade mark is perceived by the public as a distinctive element or an ornamental element …”. The court further reasons that the essential functions of trademarks and State emblems are different in that State emblems are meant to identify a State and represent its sovereignty whereas trademarks are a means to identify the origination of goods and services. Further on the protection of State emblems does not require a likelihood of confusion. State emblems cannot be declared invalid, their protection period is not limited and they are protected without the need for registration.

The court also concludes that Article 6ter of the Paris Convention may even be applicable in cases where the mark is not an exact reproduction of a State emblem  if a trade mark is perceived by the relevant public as an imitation of a State emblem.

Finally the court ruled that the Paris Convention does not require States to distinguish between trademarks for goods and services although States are free to do so. The court outlines that based on Article 29(1) of Regulation No 40/94 it is evident that the Community legislature did not intend to discriminate between marks for goods and marks for services.

(European Court of Justice, Cases C‑202/08 P and C‑208/08 P, 16 Jul 2009)

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July 23, 2009   No Comments

Mineral water from Alaska, anyone?

This case is all about the question if the word “Alaska” unfolds descriptive character for beverages such as mineral water.

In 1998 the German brewery Schwarzbräu GmbH had registered a figurative Community trade mark consisting of the word “Alaska” and the picture of an ice bear on a sheet of ice (Nice class 32).  In 2001 the German beverage company Rhön-Sprudel Egon Schindel GmbH filed a request to declare the registration of this trade mark invalid, based on an alleged infringement of  Article 7(1)(c) Regulation (EC) No 40/94 (absolute ground for refusal for marks consisting exclusively of signs which indicate geographic origin). This request was rejected by the Cancellation Division. The appeal against this decision was also unsuccessful.

The Court of First Instance confirmed OHIM’s decisions. It did not see the mark having any descriptive character in relation to the goods concerned.

The relevant circles of the public do not make a connection between this mark, namely the word, Alaska (as a region) and as the origin of mineral water or other non-alcoholic beverages.

As far as Rhön-Sprudel had referred to a decision of the Federal Court of Switzerland, the court highlighted, that OHIM’s decisions were to be judged exclusively on the basis of Regulation (EC) No 40/94 and its interpretation by a Community Judge. Not really surprising, is it?

(European Court of First Instance, T‑225/08, 8. July 2009)

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July 17, 2009   No Comments

Mars bars don’t look that special

The Court of First Instance had to decide about the distinctive qualities of the Mars bar shape.

Mars Inc had registered a three-dimensional Community trade mark, Nice Classes 5, 29 and 30 of the Nice Agreement.

The German chocolate manufacturer Ludwig Schokolade filed an application for a declaration that this mark was invalid. This application was rejected by OHIM’s Cancellation Division, however Ludwig Schokolade’s appeal filed against this decision was successful. Accordingly Mars’ trademark was declared invalid. The Court of First Instance confirmed this decision and dismissed the action brought forward by Mars Inc based on the following key findings:

An elongated shape with rounded ends is not significantly different from other shapes commonly used for chocolate bars. Chevrons on top of a Mars bar are decorative elements and not a sign indicating the product’s commercial origin.

A mark can only be registered on the grounds of distinctiveness in consequence of the use which has been made of it, if this distinctiveness has been acquired in each of the states being a Member State at the time registration was sought.

The amount of time alone, a sign has been used in certain Member States is not sufficient to show that the public targeted by the product perceives it as an indication of commercial origin.

(Court of First Instance, T‑28/08, 8 July 2009)

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July 14, 2009   No Comments

Procter & Gamble’s OLAY no likelihood of confusion with OLI

In this decision the Court of First Instance had to decide the case of the Spanish company Laboratorios Alcala Farma who had filed an application for a Community trade mark in regards to the figurative sign “Oli” for the Nice Classes 3 and 5.

Procter & Gamble had filed an opposition claiming infringement of their earlier “OLAY” Community word marks (Nice Classes 3 and 5) because of a likelihood of confusion.

The court dismissed Procter & Gamble’s action. In essence because “…the signs at issue have significant differences at a visual and aural level which override the similarities…” in parts because of the figurative, highly stylised appearance of the “Oli” sign. But also the difference in pronunciation was highlighted by the court.

Finally the court emphasises that in regards to medical goods there was no likelihood of confusion as consumers display a higher level of attention when purchasing such goods.

No real groundbreaking new legal developments here.

(European Court of First Instance T‑240/08, 8 Jul 2009)

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July 10, 2009   1 Comment

The OHIM and Dr. No

In the Case T‑435/05 decided by the European Court of First Instance on the 30th June 2009, Danjaq LLC, a US company established in Santa Monica, California was objecting the registration of the word sign “Dr. No” as Community trade mark at the OHIM by the German company Mission Productions Gesellschaft für Film-, Fernseh- und Veranstaltungsproduktion mbH (in the following referred to as “Mission Production”).

Registration was sought for Nice Classes 9, 12, 18, 25 and 32.

The OHIM rejected Danjaq´s objection on the grounds that

  • they had not provided sufficient proof that the marks in question had a well‑known character or
  • that the non‑registered marks or the signs other than trade marks had previously been used in the course of trade.

Danjaq LLC based their legal action on the following grounds:

  1. Infringement of Article 8(1)(a) and (b) and (2)(c) of Regulation No 40/94 (identity and likelihood of confusion)
  2. Infringement of Article 73 of Regulation No 40/94, and of Rules 50(2)(f) and 52(1) of Commission Regulation (EC) No 2868/95 (OHIM’s obligation to state reasons on which a decision is based).
  3. Infringement of Article 8(4) of Regulation No 40/94 (proprietor of non-registered trademark’s right to prohibit use of subsequent trademark)

The court has declined all three pleas.

1. The court ruled that there was no infringement of Article 8(1)(a) and (b) and (2)(c) of Regulation No 40/94 as the signs “Dr. No” and “Dr. NO” were not used by Danjaq LLC as trade marks previously. The court considers “Dr. No” as the title of the first film in the “James Bond” series and the name of one of the main character in that film. The signs “Dr. No” and “Dr. NO” were however not used as trade marks in order to identify the commercial origin of the films or DVDs.

For the average consumer, these signs only help to distinguish that film from other films in the “James Bond” series. The commercial origin of the film is indicated by other signs (e.g. “007″, “James Bond” or the “Gun Symbol”).

The court further reasons that even the commercial success of the Bond film “Dr No” can not change the fact that the signs in questions are not being used as indicators of commercial origin.

2. The court ruled that there was no infringement of Article 73 of Regulation No 40/94 and of Rules 50(2)(f) and 52(1) of Commission Regulation (EC) No 2868/95 as Danjaq LLC had failed to prove that it had used the signs “Dr. No” and “Dr. NO” in the course of trade. This is sufficient ground on which OHIM could reject the plea without violating Article 73 of Regulation No 40/94 and of Rules 50(2)(f) and 52(1) of Commission Regulation (EC) No 2868/95.

3. Finally the court ruled that there was no infringement of Article 8(4) of Regulation No 40/94 as Danjaq LLC had failed to prove that it had used the signs “Dr. No” and “Dr. NO” in the course of trade. Pursuant to Article 8(4) of Regulation No 40/94, the existence of an earlier non‑registered trade mark or a sign other than a trade mark gives its proprietor the right to prohibit the use of a subsequent trade mark if the sign

- is used in the course of trade and
- is of more than mere local significance.

The court reasons that “…the condition requiring use in the course of trade is a fundamental requirement, without which the sign in question cannot enjoy any protection against the registration of a Community trade mark, irrespective of the requirements to be met under national law in order to acquire exclusive rights…”

The documents submitted by Danjaq LLC were not sufficient proof that the film title “Dr No” was used in the course of trade as Danjaq LLC did not specify the extent of use of the title in the markets concerned. The court would have regarded “… programming details of the film, either for cinemas or television, or to specify the length of time over which the film was distributed …” as sufficient proof.

(European Court of First Instance T‑435/05, 30 June 2009)

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July 6, 2009   No Comments

Facebook vs. StudiVZ

In the case Facebook vs StudiVZ the Regional Court Dusseldorf ruled against Facebook, allowing StudiVZ to continue their service.

StudiVZ is a German social networking site similar to Facebook. The very similarity was also the reason for Facebook’s legal action against StudiVZ. The court ruled that despite a similarity of look & feel, StudiVZ does not misrepresent its origin and is no unfair imitation of Facebook. Facebook did not have enough profile in the German market when StudiVZ came to market in 2005. In so far as Facebook claimed that StudiVZ had unlawfully copied proprietary php code, Facebook did not provide enough evidence to prove a copyright infringement.

(Regional Court Dusseldorf 16.06.2009, 33 O 374/08)

So, the German tradition of scouting new Internet trends in the US and bringing them to market in Germany will continue. Sad but true, there are many successful Internet start ups in Germany but probably less than a handful genuine German “first movers”. The rest is “me too”.

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July 1, 2009   No Comments