28 October, 2015

Impulsive Decisions - Reputation of a Trademark in Europe

In the world of trademarks the goodwill, or in other words reputation, of goods and services is paramount for their protection and enjoyment in a relevant territory. As commerce has become more and more global, with other territories seeing goods or services after their introduction to others, jurisdictional issues are even more poignant and relevant, providing a judicial headache for many attempting to benefit from those limitations (for example, in the recent NOW TV case, discussed here). Community Trade Marks, or CTMs for short, are registered as European-wide trademarks, but the goods or services' introduction to all of the Member States can sometimes differ, and potentially leave their registration open to challenge. Could, however, a proprietor prove goodwill in a Member State through use in other Member States, without actually having a commercial presence for that item in the Member State in question? Luckily, the European Court of Justice answered this question over a month ago.

The case of Iron & Smith v Unilever dealt with a national application for the mark "be Impulsive" in Hungary, lodged by Iron & Smith. The application was challenged by Unilever on he basis of their earlier mark "IMPULSE" (CTM 3116233); however they failed to demonstrate goodwill in Hungary, although Unilever had done so, arguably at least, in the UK and Italy.

The Court was asked four questions, the first three of which were distilled down by the Court as "...what conditions, in circumstances such as those at issue in the main proceedings, are to be met in order for a Community mark to be regarded as having a reputation in the European Union, pursuant to Article 4(3) of Directive 2008/95".

Extending beyond one's limitations can be a good thing
After a brief consideration of precedent relating to goodwill the Court quickly saw that "...if the reputation of an earlier Community mark is established in a substantial part of the territory of the European Union, which may, in some circumstances, coincide with the territory of a single Member State, which does not have to be the State in which the application for the later national mark was filed, it must be held that that mark has a reputation in the European Union". What this means is that you don't have to prove reputation all over Europe, but only in a substantial part of it (how ever that might be defined), in order to establish reputation in any Member State. This is a curious finding, as not all nationals of all Member States are aware of goods or services elsewhere in the Union, and effectively creates goodwill in those that have not, and might never, see those goods or services.

The final remaining question for the Court was also put in very succinct terms: "...in what circumstances Article 4(3)... is applicable if the earlier Community trade mark has already acquired a reputation in a substantial part of the territory of the European Union, but not with the relevant public in the Member State in which the registration of the later national mark concerned by the opposition has been applied for".

The Court, again, briefly considered earlier decisions, and concluded that "...if the earlier Community trade mark has already acquired a reputation in a substantial part of the territory of the European Union, but not with the relevant public in the Member State in which registration of the later national mark concerned by the opposition has been applied for, the proprietor of the Community trade mark may benefit from the protection introduced by Article 4(3)... where it is shown that a commercially significant part of that public is familiar with that mark, makes a connection between it and the later national mark, and that there is, taking account of all the relevant factors in the case, either actual and present injury to its mark, for the purposes of that provision or, failing that, a serious risk that such injury may occur in the future". The answer relates heavily to the above, as if goodwill is proved in a significant part of the Union, it is possible to rely on a CTM to invalidate a national mark, provided there is actual or potential damage to the CTM or its owner if the national mark were to be registered.

Overall the decision of the Court seems odd, effectively creating goodwill where none have existed in evidential terms, but aligns itself with earlier precedent. To prove goodwill or reputation in any European Member State one only has to prove it in a 'significant' portion of the European Union, which, to this writer's mind, expands the remit of an unused CTM beyond that for which it is intended (even if the mark is registered in the whole of Europe). Although the Court's rationale aligns itself with earlier decisions, it seems to give rights where no rights existed, potentially even hindering legitimate competition. Nevertheless, this writer will not purport himself to know better than the judges at the Court, but is puzzled by this outcome nonetheless.

Source: IPKat 

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