26 January, 2017

Question Solved - CJEU Rejected Rubik's Cube TM due to Technical Functionality

Trademarks are a very flexible tool to protect a variety of interests in goods, be it looks or the design of an object. One thing it cannot, and should not protect is technical functionality, which is better suited for protection through patents. Many have tried to use trademarks as quasi-patents that last forever, but the courts are quite reluctant to allow such registrations one challenged (if even registered in the first place). One such trademark has been the subject of a 10 year legal battle, namely the Rubik's Cube. The saga has finally come to its (current) conclusion, with a long-awaited decision handed down by the CJEU in late 2016.

The case of Simba Toys GmbH & Co. KG v EUIPO dealt with a registered trademark for the design of the Rubik's Cube (No. 162784), which is owned by Seven Towns Ltd. The mark consists of a 3D rendition of the Cube, showcasing the grid pattern on all sides of the Cube. Simba Toys challenged the mark in 2006, and ultimately alleged an infringement of Article 7(1)(a) to (c) and (e) of the old Community Trade Mark Regulation (No 40/94), which set out the absolute grounds of refusal for trademark applications.

While Simba Toys put forth six arguments, the CJEU focussed only on the first, which alleged a misapplication of Article 7(1)(e)(ii) of the Regulation (which prevents the registration of a shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result), under which the General Court deemed that the essential characteristics of that shape do not perform a technical function of the goods at issue.

The CJEU first had to identify what the essential characteristics of the mark are, and the Court followed the General Court's rationale, setting them out as "...a cube and a grid structure on each surface of the cube". The essential characteristics then have to be assessed in the light of the technical function of the actual goods concerned, i.e. a three-dimensional puzzle. This has to be done using the representation given in the application, namely the drawing of the Cube, along with any descriptions of the same.

Solving a Rubik's Cube can be just as challenging as protecting it
The Court deemed that the General Court had erred in their assessment of the criteria in relation to the Cube that "...for the purpose of examining the functionality of the essential characteristics of the sign concerned, in particular the grid structure on each surface of the cube, the shape at issue, as represented graphically, should have been taken as a basis, without necessarily having to take into consideration any additional circumstances which an objective observer would not have been able to ‘fathom precisely’ on the basis of the graphic representations of the contested mark, such as the rotating capability of individual elements in a three-dimensional ‘Rubik’s Cube’-type puzzle". While these 'hidden circumstances' that are not fathomed precisely by an objective observer (i.e. the rotation is not, at least arguably, evident from the drawing of the Cube), this "...cannot preclude account from being taken of the technical function of the actual goods represented by the sign at issue for the purpose of examining the functionality of the essential characteristics of that sign, as the proprietor of that mark would otherwise be allowed to broaden the scope of the protection arising from the registration thereof to cover every type of puzzle with a similar shape, namely any three-dimensional puzzle with cube-shaped elements, regardless of the principles by which it functions".

What the CJEU therefore was concerned about was that these 'hidden' features could be used almost without limit to prohibit others from using the technical functionality of, for example, rotation for 3D puzzles, simply based on the look of the puzzle itself. This makes sense, as one can appreciate that the broadening of trademarks beyond their typical protection would mean a near monopoly on some features that are not immediately apparent based on a graphical representation. The CJEU therefore rejected the appeal, and didn't refer the matter back to the General Court.

The case sets a very important precedent, and rightsholders need to be more careful in their applications for trademarks, especially when they contain, or might contain, technical functionalities. Clearly one can appreciate the defence of legitimate trademarkable features; however, overextending your rights just might lead to the loss of your mark.

Source: IPKat

23 January, 2017

IP Iustitia is Looking for Guest Writers!

This writer started his 'career' as a blogger as a guest writer for various IP blogs, and with that being said I thought it would be high-time to extend the same courtesy to my readers who might be interested in contributing to the IP blogosphere, or just to share their own knowledge, passion and enthusiasm for IP law!

Who can be a guest writer?

There really is no template here, but working knowledge or just an interest in IP law is pretty much essential. Whether you're a student, lawyer or anything in between, as long as you know something about IP and want to share your thoughts on current events or just answer a question posed for yourself, then you're a perfect fit.

What can I write about?

What ever you want, so long as it pertains to IP law in some way and is within good taste. Current (or past) cases, new laws passed in your jurisdiction, commentary on current events; the IP world is your oyster here. The more interesting or thought provoking the better!

The only thing we don't publish is merely for the sake of advertising yourself, your firm or business, without much substance bar the bare minimum. IP Iustitia is not a commercial endeavour, but a blog to share knowledge and insight. You and your firm/business will be shared as a part of the article, so long as your article itself speaks more than the tagline at the bottom.

All posts will of course be attributed to the person, including links to your website, LinkedIn profile, social media account or blog.

How do I get in touch?

Email jani.ihalainen@gmail.com or send me a message on Twitter at @IPIustitia and tell a little bit about yourself, your education and/or your profession, and why you want to write for the blog. This is not a popularity contest, and most people's content will be published, but some base knowledge is always nice.

Also, share an idea or two about what you would want to write about. No need to have a sample, but just to brainstorm and share your vision so that I can get a better idea on fit and content. If you have any questions, do let me know as well.

If your article is good, pending editorial discretion, it will be published on the blog. If you have interest to write more than just one article (and your content is good enough), recurring guest writers will be considered happily.

20 January, 2017

My Other Joke - 'Getting' the Joke not Relevant to Parody, Says US Court of Appeals

Jokes are rarely ubiquitous, and one that you might get won't necessarily translate as well to your friends, which even could be construed as offensive by some. This clear subjectivity when it comes to humor is well known by most, but this has been rarely introduced as an argument in a court of law (at least in this writer's knowledge). With that said, would 'getting' a joke be a part of the considerations surrounding parody or satire, or would a genuine attempt at being funny be such, even if some don't 'get' the joke? A question many didn't know they wanted to know the answer to was addressed recently by the US Court of Appeals.

The case of Louis Vuitton Malletier SA v. My Other Bag, Inc. dealt with the sale of canvas tote bags by My Other Bag, which feature the name of the company on one side and a caricature image of iconic and well-known designer handbags on the other, including brands like Louis Vuitton Chanel, and Fendi. The joke is a carry-over from bumper stickers with the wording "my other car" that plays to the idea of owning both the luxury item and an inexpensive alternative (without actually having the former, most likely). Louis Vuitton didn't take well to the use of their designs on MOB's tote bags and took the company to court for trademark infringement, trademark dilution and copyright infringement.

Daniela didn't understand why she was arrested because of
her 'other' bag
The Court of Appeals dealt with the matter of trademark infringement first, and quickly saw that there was no infringement by MOB as there were "…obvious differences in MOB's mimicking of LV's mark, the lack of market proximity between the products at issue, and minimal, unconvincing evidence of consumer confusion". This follows the decision by the District Court of New York at first instance, who determined that while the mark and its use are similar, there are clear, distinctive differences that distinguish MOB's image of Louis Vuitton's design, and that the two products compete in an entirely different marketplace (with Louis Vuitton clearly catering to an exclusive, luxury market, and MOB to a very casual market).

The Court then moved onto the question of trademark dilution (a case of using a well-known trademark in a different product type entirely, diminishing the distinctive value of the original mark), which at first instance was dismissed due to the defence of fair use through parody by MOB. Similarly to the above consideration, the Court of Appeals didn't take long to explain their findings, affirming that "…[MOB's bags] mimic LV's designs and handbags in a way that is recognizable, they do so as a drawing on a product that is such a conscious departure from LV's image of luxury… as to convey that MOB's tote bags are not LV handbags". Even though Louis Vuitton's marks were used, albeit in a humorous way, they still did not act as a 'designation of source', since the bags did have the MOB branding present in addition to the caricature image that shows a clear designation of origin contrary to Louis Vuitton. Clearly the trademark couldn't have been diluted in any way, as the products didn't cross over into each other's markets, nor shared features that would lead to them being confused by consumers.

The final point of consideration was that of copyright infringement, which the Court dispatched in very short terms. The Court saw that "…MOB's parodic use of LV's designs produces a "new expression [and] message" that constitutes transformative use". This, in addition to the benefit derived from the remaining fair use considerations or their irrelevancy to the matter, aided MOB's case under copyright infringement, with the claim being dismissed entirely. One can appreciate the transformative use of Louis Vuitton's designs, as the cartoonish image along with a changed logo (featuring, instead of the LV logo, a MOB version of the same) made the design something new through its humorous portrayal of the design. Ultimately, the Court of Appeals dismissed Louis Vuitton's appeal entirely.

The case illustrates the strength in a genuine parody defence, and as was discussed by Justice Furman "...the fact that Louis Vuitton at least does not find the comparison funny is immaterial; Louis Vuitton's sense of humor (or lack thereof) does not delineate the parameters of its rights (or MOB's rights) under trademark law". Many proprietors of high-end, well-known brands might not like, or even get, the parodies that make fun of them, but the law should allow this type of commentary or use, provided it is bona fide parody. It serves these brands well to pick their fights carefully, since a well placed joke can make fun of you, but rash acts of litigation can do more damage.

Source: JDSupra

13 January, 2017

Not Taking a Break - EU General Court Sends Kit Kat TM for Reconsideration at EUIPO

The Kit Kat chocolate bar trademark saga is one that seems to just keep on giving and giving to the IP community, offering new and fangled ways where the iconic (or dare we might now say the opposite) chocolate bar has been fought over in Europe. After a hard-fought several rounds in the CJEU and the UK courts, it all seemed all over; however, the EU General Court offered us a new judgment as an early Christmas present in mid-December.

The case of Mondelez UK Holdings & Services Ltd, formerly Cadbury Holdings Ltd v EUIPO dealt with an EU registered trademark (2632529) for a three-dimensional mark comprising of the Kit Kat chocolate bar without any markings. The mark was subsequently challenged by Nestle's favorite candy competitor, Cadbury (now owned by Mondelez), and the matter has since ultimately ended up in the General Court, largely dealing with lack of use and distinctive character.

The GC only concerned itself with Article 52(2) of the Community Trade mark Regulation, in conjunction with Article 7(3), which set out that a trademark, even if potentially found invalid, might still be registrable should the mark have acquired a distinctive character with respect to the goods and services covered. Mondelez argued that the EUIPO had failed to correctly assess this distinctive character (allowing the mark to be registered), and directed their argumentation in four separate parts.

The Court initially dealt with the second part of their plea argues that the mark had not been used for all of the relevant goods it was registered for. The Board of Appeal had seen that, based on the evidence submitted, the mark had been used for all of the goods listed above. This assessment, according to the GC, would be done "...in relation, on the one hand, to the goods or services in respect of which registration has been sought and, on the other, to the presumed perception of the mark by an average consumer of the category of goods or services in question, who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect". Any proof employed would have to be viewed independently within the context of sub-sections within the broad terms of goods to identify whether the mark has been used for those goods.

Gilbert always forgot what his chocolate bars looked like

Under the evidence supplied, the GC did concede that the Kit Kat mark had been used for the majority of the goods listed; however, saw that it had equally not been used for bakery products, pastries, cakes and waffles, since the advertising materials only showed biscuit-like, chocolate treats with no real bakery goods included at all. This was deemed an error on the part of the Board of Appeal.

The first part of the plea dealt with a lack of use of the mark in the form as registered, and therefore would only stem from the branding or the use of other marks in conjunction with the contested mark. The EU courts have previously held that a 3D mark can acquire distinctive character even if used with other marks, as long as the public distinguishes the product from originating from a particular source as a result. The GC quickly rejected this argument, as surveys indicated a high percentage of individuals identifying the brand from just the shape alone.

They then moved onto the third part of the plea, which argues that there is a lack of use of the mark as an indicator of origin and insufficient evidence to that effect. The latter point would be assessed based on evidence showing that a significant portion of the public identifies the mark as an indicator of origin, which entails in it several factors, including market share and duration of use. The GC rejected this argument as well, having extensively discussed the evidence submitted and its application to the matter at hand, illustrating a clear recognition of the mark as an indicator of origin for those particular goods, and that it was sufficient to overcome this plea.

Finally, the fourth part of the plea asserted a lack of proof of distinctive character acquired through use of the contested trade mark throughout the European Union. Mondelez contested that, as Nestle only provided evidence with respect to 10 Member States out of 15, the Board of Appeal should not have extrapolated from that evidence applicable to the entire EU (with the Board only finding evidence of distinctive character for 5 being sufficient for the whole of the EU). According to established EU case law, a mark needs to have distinctive character in the whole of the EU, and would fail to be registered should it not have it for a part of the EU, even one single Member State. Evidence provided needs to be quantitively sufficient to prove distinctive character in the Member States concerned. The GC corrected the Board of Appeal's approach in assessing this, and set out that "…the relevant question is not whether it was shown that a substantial proportion of the public in the European Union, merging all the Member States and regions, perceived a mark as an indication of the commercial origin of the goods designated by that mark, but whether, throughout the European Union, it was proved that a significant proportion of the relevant public perceived a mark as an indication of the commercial origin of the goods designated by that mark".

The GC allowed this part of the first plea, determining that a lack of evidence for the rest of the Member States would mean that the mark has not been established to have distinctive character in the entire EU, and the registration is therefore invalid and would have to be re-examined.

The case is a very curious one, and highlights a potential big issue for applicants when it comes to evidencing the distinctive character in the entire EU. With surveys and other evidence gathering exercises being costly both monetarily and time wise, and newer launches in other territories being a hindrance for proving distinctive character. In the end, the threshold should be high; however, this writer would be a firm believer in statistics, especially for more notable, established brands, and would want more flexibility at the EUIPO (although, understanding the risks associated with giving away trademarks like candy). It will remain to be seen whether the case is appealed, and this writer would not want to see the fight for chocolate bars to ever end.

Source: Reuters