24 April, 2019

It Ain't Bad - Advocate General Kotott Considers Bad Faith in TM Applications

Picking the right trademark can sometimes feel like it's the make-or-break moment for a brand, particularly when you are building a brand from nothing. Maybe taking 'inspiration' from a very well-known brand might be the boost you need, since people might naturally gravitate to your brand thinking it is another – but of course without meaning it is that one! Toeing the line of registering a trademark in bad faith is a tough one, since when is an application truly made in bad faith? This issue hasn't been touched on by the EU courts in a while, and in the lead-up to a CJEU decision Advocate General Kokott has given their two cents in a recently published opinion discussing this very issue.

The case of Koton Ma─čazacilik Tekstil Sanayi ve Ticaret v EUIPO concerned the application for the registration of a figurative mark by Nadal Esteban for the trademark "STYLO & KOTON", with the letters o written using symbols that look like flowers (EUTM 9917436). The application was opposed by Koton, who had earlier rights in the figurative trademark "KOTON", in which the letter o was also written using flowers. Koton argued that Mr Esteban's mark had been registered in bad faith, and should be declared invalid. After a rejection most recently by the EUIPO General Court, the matter has moved for determination by the CJEU, with the AG issuing their opinion ahead of the decision.

Under Article 52(1)(b) of the Trade Mark Regulation, an application can be declared invalid if the applicant was acting in bad faith when filing the application. For the Article to apply the mark applied for has to be identical or similar for identical or similar goods/services to the third-party mark being 'copied'. The General Court rejected Koton's argument under this premise since the mark being applied for was in relation to dissimilar good/services.

The AG emphasized that in assessing bad faith you have to, in addition to the above "…take into account all the relevant factors specific to the particular case which pertained at the time of filing the application". Factors in considering bad faith could include a lack of intention of using the mark at all, or the intention to use it in order to mislead consumers over the origin of goods or services. This could also include the attempt to register a mark knowing or thinking that registration by another would be imminent (i.e. registering iPad thinking Apple might start a line of tablets).

The AG therefore considered that based on the variety of factors raised by the AG (as discussed above) "…It is not therefore essential for recognition of bad faith that a third party is using an identical or similar sign for an identical or similar product or service capable of being confused with the sign for which registration is sought". Bad faith can include the registration of a similar or identical mark for wholly unidentical goods/services. 

The General Court had not considered Mr Esteban's earlier application as a factor when assessing bad faith, which was refused, for identical goods and services. After the EUIPO rejected his application Mr Esteban changed the goods and services included in his application and the mark was registered. The AG considered this to be an important factor and one that needed to be included. What the earlier application allows an inference to be drawn as to his intentions at the time of filing.

This highlights just how different bad faith is to other causes for invalidity, as it "…is not an inherent defect in the trade mark itself, but stems from the circumstances in which it was applied for". An application also cannot be divided into good and bad faith parts under Article 52 of the Regulation, but must be looked at as a whole in the light of bad faith. As such the AG saw that "…The fact that an application was originally filed for a trade mark for goods and services in respect of which the applicant knew or should have known that identical or similar trade marks existed may in any event be an important indication that the application to register that trade mark for other goods or services was also filed in bad faith".

The General Court also failed to properly assess whether Mr Esteban's defense to bad faith had any 'economic logic'. Having considered the new factor, and Mr Esteban's defense to bad faith, the AG concluded that the application had indeed been filed in bad faith.

While we wait for the CJEU's decision in the matter, it seems that the Advocate General has highlighted important oversights made by the General Court.

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