09 July, 2019

Walking the Dotted Line - CJEU Decides on what Dotted Lines mean in Trademark Applications

The Devil is often in the details, especially when applying to register trademarks and/or patents. Sometimes the smallest of 'mistakes' or strategic choices could lead to the revocation or devaluation of your IP, so it is important to be sure you have set out the exact parameters in the best way possible to avoid potential issues. One such matter is how trademarks are presented in graphical form, including dotted lines (the Trunki case being a good example of when the illustration of a mark really mattered). With this in mind, how does the inclusion of dotted lines in trademark applications impact the mark, and can they be excluded as being simply illustrative?

The case of Deichmann SE v EUIPO concerned the registration of a trademark involving a cross design on the side of a shoe, where the shoe itself was marked using dotted lines to illustrate the position of the mark (EUTM 2923852). Infringement proceedings involving the mark were initiated by Deichmann 6 years after the registration of the mark, and the other party, Munich SL, counterclaimed for revocation and invalidity. The matter then ultimately ended with the CJEU for determination.

The crux of the matter is whether the mark can be revoked under Article 51 of the EU Trade Mark Regulation for a lack of genuine use in the EU. What the Court also had to consider was whether the mark was a figurative or a position mark, and whether that was an irrelevant fact for the determination of genuine use.

Does it really count if I signed on a dotted line?
The Court considered that "…it [is] irrelevant whether the mark at issue should be regarded as a position mark or a figurative mark". The General Court had previously determined that the mark was a figurative mark at the same time as being a position mark – which the Court agreed with. They further noted that "…‘position marks’ are similar to the categories of figurative and three-dimensional marks as they related to the application of three-dimensional elements to the surface of a product", and the distinction between a figurative and a position mark in the light of distinctiveness is irrelevant.

Similarly it was irrelevant to the assessment of genuine use. The Court emphasised that the acquisition of genuine use is analogous to that of distinctiveness, therefore rendering the distinction between a figurative and a position mark unnecessary for genuine use.

The Court then looked at the mark itself, which they saw consisted of "…broken or ‘dotted’ lines, which represent the appearance of the product covered by that mark, and two solid lines, representing an affixed cross". The dotted line therefore clearly denotes the location of the mark itself, rather than forming a part of the mark, i.e. making it a position mark.

The mark had been registered as a figurative mark, and even though the above sets it out as a position mark, this ultimately does not matter in the light of the mark's registration.

The case is by no means revolutionary, but does draw a line in the law in the light of dotted lines. Most of the time common sense prevails, and applicants can let out a sigh of relief in their world of dotted outlines.

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