For the half-year to 31 December 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Rebecca Gulbul, Lucas Michels and Marie-Andrée Weiss.

Regular round-ups of the previous week's blogposts are kindly compiled by Alberto Bellan.

Friday, 24 October 2014

News from the EPO - Strike Ballot comes out in favour of a strike

Merpel has been sunning herself again in the corridors of the EPO.  Readers may recall that just a few months ago the President of the European Patent Office refused a call for a ballot for a strike.  Well, there has been another call for a ballot, and this time the ballot was held.  Merpel understands that the results were announced last night, and has been informed that the results are as follows:

The total number of votes cast was 3553 (out of 6823 entitled to vote) representing 52% of the employees entitled to vote. The required quorum is 40%, so the quorum was therefore reached.
The result of the vote was as follows:
·        Votes in favour of a strike = 3032
·        Votes against a strike = 353
·        No opinion = 168
Thus 85% of the votes cast were in favour of a strike, so the result was overwhelmingly in favour of s strike.  This is only about six months after the last official strike at the EPO (industrial action took place in March and April 2014, are reported here, here and here).
The ballot took place in accordance with the EPO Strike Regulations, that have themselves been one of the issues in the industrial action.  They were reported by the IPKat here.  Notice of the actual timing of the strike still has to be given to the President of the EPO, at least 5 days before the strike.
In other news it has just been reported that the EPO has told unions (in particular SUEPO, the union in the German offices of the EPO) that they cannot use EPO premises on an ongoing basis, although meetings can continue to be held with permission and advance notice.
And on another related matter, it was first reported that staff representatives from the EPO were excluded from meetings of the Administrative Council for the first time, and then subsequently reported that the EPO had responded that representatives were not excluded as such, rather that the committee of staff representatives had not properly constituted itself.  The EPO spokesman was reported as saying:

 “Since July 1, the newly elected CSC (central staff committee) has not been able to appoint its chair, deputy chair or secretary, nor did the CSC nominate a delegation legitimated by its full members in spite of several meetings and reminders.”

He added: “There was then no appropriate way of knowing which persons should represent the CSC. As soon as they proceed with the nominations according to the rules, they will of course be entitled again to participate as observers to the AC.”
While the true facts are not always apparent, it is clear that the industrial unrest at the EPO is far from over, and the "Social Democracy" reforms of the President continue to provoke opposition.  Merpel hopes to return to this matter soon. in the beginning, there was Mudie ...—if you are a book reader, you probably worship the day that the company began to enable you to order books online; if you are/were a bookstore, probably less so. If you are/were a book publisher, you probably enjoy the distribution power of, but you rue its pricing power, both for hardcopy and e-books. If you are an author, you may enjoy the distribution power of even more than your publisher (if you have one) and you are probably less sensitive than your publisher to the issue of pricing power. Whoever you are in the ecosystem of the book industry, one thing is common to you all— is the 800-pound gorilla.

But is not the first entity to enjoy a leading position in book distribution and pricing. As The Economist reminded us last week in its extended essay on "The Future of the Book", the 19th century in England witnessed its own version of, Charles Edward Mudie's subscription library. The way that Mudie influenced the business of publishing and the act of reading in that century was arguably no less influential than that of today and bears recounting, as a cottage industry has arisen pondering what book -ublishing and reading will look like in years to come.

Mudie's success was built on the model of the commercial circulating library (the "Select Library"). It began in 1842, when he started the business of lending books to students at the University of London. For the annual price of one guinea, these commercial subscribers could borrow one book at a time. The business expanded beyond its original location in London and to other cities as well, such as Manchester and Birmingham. The background to this model was the fact that while an increasing number of 19th century Victorians wished to read books, the cost of purchasing them was prohibitive for many. The pioneering annual subscription fee model, which brilliantly separated reading from ownership of books, enabled readers to overcome that challenge, one book at a time.

But Mudie and the influence of the subscription library went way beyond expanding the scope of book readership. First, it led to the popular adoption of the "three-volume", or "triple decker" format for the novel, which in particular enabled him to realize the vast potential of fiction as a profit centre. Why so? As explained, given the cost of publishing, the aim was for Part I of the novel to whet the reader's appetite to continue on with reading Parts II and III. As well, the amounts received for Part I would cover the printing costs for the later Parts. From the point of view of inventory, it meant that three volumes, instead of one, could be put into circulation among readers. Indeed, Mudie increasingly came to demand from its publishers the triple-decker format for their novels.

The pricing structure for the triple-decker format was a form of publishing gold mine. As explained by Professor George Landow in his review of over 40 years ago of the 1970 book by Guinevere Griest, Mudie's Circulating Library and the Victorian Novel-
"[T]he three-decker novel provided the crucial factor in Mudie's success: by forcing publishers to price their novels at the artificially high price of 31s 6d for three volumes (for which the library paid only 15s), it effectively discourages several generations of British readers from buying novels — so much so that publishers claimed the British were not a book-buying people. Thus, while Moby Dick sold in America for $1.50, it cost the equivalent of $7.80 when it appeared as The Whale in Great Britain. The three-decker novel, in other words, cost at least five times as much as a standard volume of poetry."
Mudie came to dominate his relationship with publishers, enjoying unrivalled market power. He would purchase a large percentage of a publisher's run (this Kat found estimates ranging from 50% to up to 100%) for use by the company's outlets. For the reader, this stocks of books meant that readers did not have to wait for an extended period to obtain a copy of the book. However, the impact of this arrangement on the author could be far less benign. In the words of The Economist, if “Mr. Mudie chose not to stock an author's book, it could become an immediate dud." Mudie leveraged his market power over the purchase of books by advertising what was called "the principal New and Choice Books in circulation". Redolent of 20th century best seller lists, it had the effect of both fashioning the commercial market for books while at the same time having the power to make a reputation for authors fortunate enough to be included.

But Mudie not only changed the face of the book and reading business; he also is said to have been a primary influence on the very contents and structure of the Victorian novel as a literary genre. In the words of Landow:
"…by making sure that almost all novels appeared in three volumes, it had important effects on the structure, plot, style, and even imaginative worlds of the Victorian novel; and… by acting as a censor who demanded fiction suited to the middle-class family, it controlled the subject, scope, and morality of the novel for fifty years."
Moreover, Mudie played an important role in framing Victorian moral sensibilities. Most notably was his refusal to stock what he considered “immoral” books. Mudie and his subscription library model ultimately feel out of fashion by the end of the 19th century, even if the operation continued until the 1930s. Two main culprits were held to blame. The rise of government-funded lending libraries, which made books available for reading at a much lower cost, and the end of the triple decker format (which was apparently an decision made by Mudie).

Reflecting on the rise and fall of Mudie’s subscription library, one cannot help but be struck by the fact that then, as now, market power in the book industry is most powerfully exercised at the distribution level. Writers write, publishers publish and readers read, but the entity that controls how the book gets into the hands of the customer is potentially the primary actor in the commercial ecosystem of the book. Mudie was hardly the first to enjoy this role; even before there was the Statute of Anne, there was the Licensing of the Press Act, which regulated (read restricted) printing and publishing, as enforced by the Stationers' Company. Given the commonality between, Mudie and the Stationers about controlling distribution, it is appropriate to recall the words of the Biblical Book of Ecclesiastes (Kohelet) (1:9)--
“What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Thursday, 23 October 2014

These Shoes are Made for Freely Walking: Copyright Protection & Free Movement of Goods

With this post we are staying with on the topic of shoes and copyright, already discussed here and here, but this recent case from the commercial division of the French Cour de Cassation also raised some European Union (EU) and Berne Convention issues. The Case is Cass.Com.,12-16.844, October 7, 2014.

French catalog retailer La Redoute sold in France a particular model of flip flop shoes which Italian fashion company Tod’s believed was a copy of its own “Fiji” flip flops, which had been sold in France since 2003. The flip flops sold by La Redoute had been manufactured in Italy and sold to La Redoute by the Italian manufacturer.

Tod’s filed a copyright infringement suit against La Redoute in the Paris Tribunal de Commerce (business court) and won. The Paris Court of Appeals confirmed the judgment on October 21, 2011, and La Redoute appealed in cassation (cassation means “breaching”).  

Restriction of Free Movement of Goods in the EU?

La Redoute argued that the principle of free movement of goods within the EU prevents a product lawfully placed on the market in one EU Member State (First Member State) to be deemed infringing a model manufactured in that same Member State by a court from another Member State (Second Member State), even if it is not established that such good was considered counterfeited by the laws of the First Member State.
Tod's Fiji Flip Flops

La Redoute argued that courts of the Second Member State must appreciate whether a copyright infringement claim is valid by applying the law of the First Member State. For La Redoute, French law should not have been applied in this case, but, rather, Italian law. Of course, this would have benefitted the French retailer as French law recognizes that shoes can be protected by copyright but Italian law, the Legislative Decree No. 95 of February 2, 2001, which implemented Directive 98/71/EC on the Legal Protection of Designs, may or may not protect shoes.

La Redoute argued that the ruling of the Paris Court of Appeals should be overturned, as it violated Article 34 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union (TFEU) which prohibits restriction of free movement of goods in the EU, and that the Cour de Cassation should refer this preliminary ruling question to the European Court of Justice (ECJ):

"Doesn’t the principle of free movement of goods within the EU, as established by Article 34 TFEU, impose, while taking into account the disparity in copyright protection provided to works of applied art by the laws of the various EU Member States and Article 5 of the 1886 Berne Convention, in order to avoid that a product lawfully put on the market in a first Member State be deemed infringing a model created in that State by a court in a second Member State, while it is not established that this good is infringing in its state of origin (the First Member State), that the court of the second State must appreciate both the validity of the rights claimed and the existence of facts of infringement by applying the law of the state of origin of the product? " [Exhale now].

Violation of Article 6 of the European Convention of Human Rights?

Article 17 of Directive 98/71/EC addresses the issue of the relationship of design protection laws and copyright protection law and states that “[a] design protected by a design right registered in or in respect of a Member State in accordance with this Directive shall also be eligible for protection under the law of copyright of that State as from the date on which the design was created or fixed in any form. The extent to which, and the conditions under which, such a protection is conferred, including the level of originality required, shall be determined by each Member State.”

La Redoute claimed that Article 17 thus created legal uncertainty and, as such, violated Article 6 of the European Convention on Human Rights which protects the right to a fair trial. It also asked the Cour de Cassation to refer a preliminary ruling question to the ECJ in that regard.

Cour de Cassation Not Convinced

The Cour de Cassation was not convinced by all these arguments. The court first noted that the European Court of Justice ruled in Case C-5/11, Criminal proceedings against Titus Alexander Jochen Donner [see also here] that Articles 34 and 36 of the TFEU must be interpreted as meaning that they do not preclude a First Member State from prosecuting a copyright infringement case if infringing copies of works protected by copyright in the First Member State are sold to the public in its territory, even if the sale is concluded in a Second Member State where these works are not protected by copyright.
This Cat is All for Free Movement

In the Donner case, an Italian company was selling unauthorized reproductions of furniture which were protected by German copyright law as works of applied arts, but were not at the time protected in Italy. The transporter of these goods had been found guilty of abetting copyright infringement by a German court.

The Cour de Cassation also found that Article 2 of the Berne Convention, which states that the enjoyment and exercise of rights protected by the Convention are independent of the existence of protection in the country of origin of the work, applied to this case.

The Cour de Cassation rejected the argument that Article 17 of Directive 98/71/EC creates legal uncertainty, noting that that the Court of Appeals had held that differences in the protection of copyright protection result from the sovereign right of each Member State to legislate in this particular area. For the Cour de Cassation, such disparities do not affect the right to intelligibility and predictability of the law, “if national law in this area is generally accessible.”

The Cour de Cassation further noted that La Redoute did not argue that French law is confusing, nor did it argue that legal protection in that area, in France or Italy, fluctuates in such a way that legal standards become unpredictable to the point of undermining the free movement of goods between EU Member States.

La Redoute also argued that copyright protection is not provided by the law of the Member States where the damage is suffered, nor where Plaintiff filed suit, but rather by the law of the Member State where the act which generated the infringement occurred. Therefore, French courts should have applied Italian law, since the allegedly infringing shoes had been manufactured there. For La Redoute, by applying French law, the Paris Court of Appealshad violated Article 5.2 of the Berne Convention.

But the Cour de Cassation was not convinced, as under Article 5.2° of the Berne Convention, the enjoyment and exercise of the author’s rights are “independent of the existence of protection in the country of origin of the work” and “the extent of protection, as well as the means of redress afforded to the author to protect his rights, [are] governed exclusively by the laws of the country where protection is claimed.”

La Redoute’s appeal to cassation was dismissed entirely. 

Image of the cat in the box is Dwarfed courtesy of Flickr user Quinn Dombroski  under a CC BY-SA-2.0 license.

Arnold J orders biggest website blocking to date

Fabio pictured while wondering
about the implementation costs
of the blocking order
just issued against him
Following last week's judgment in Cartier v BSkyB [here, a case concerning the possibility of requiring internet service providers (ISPs) to block, or at least impede, access by their subscribers to websites that advertise and sell counterfeit goods] this morning Arnold J returned to the more traditional ecosystem for blocking injunctions in the UK, ie copyright and s97A of the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988 (CDPA). As readers will remember, by adopting this provision the UK transposed Article 8(3) of the InfoSoc Directive into its own national law.

What is special about this case is that here Arnold J ordered the biggest website blocking with a single applications to date, with a total of 21 websites (all using the Bittorrent P2P file-sharing protocol) involved.

The claimants were record companies claiming on their own behalf and in a representative capacity on behalf of the members of BPI (British Recorded Music Industry) and PPL (Phonographic Performance Ltd).

The defendants were major UK ISPs that have a market share of some 95% of UK broadband users.

The 21 websites involved were broadly the same in their operation and service as The Pirate and its likes. This means that they provided an organised directory of content which users could search and browse and from which they could select and unlawfully download the sound recordings or other content of their choice.

The judge found that the websites infringed copyright on three grounds: (1) by communicating copyright-protected works to the public; (2) by authorising infringements by UK users; (3) by acting as joint tortfeasors with UK users.

Arnold J ordered the defendants to block access to the infringing websites and, similarly to what he stated in previous judgments (most recently, Cartier), he held that ISPs should bear the costs of implementing the orders.

Artjunkie snatched from the jaws of villainy, but no happy ending

It's unusual for the IPKat to feel disappointed when the party in the right emerges from court as the victor, but here's a case in point: Alison J. Hendrick v Tony Knight (O-323-14), a decision of Appointed Person Geoffrey Hobbs QC back in 17 July on appeal from the UK Trade Mark Registry, is about as depressing a piece of trade mark litigation as anyone might hope to read on this weblog.

In short, the facts as established in this and earlier litigation would lead any reasonable person, in possession of his wits and faculties, to the conclusion that Tony Knight is something of a serial trade mark scoundrel. He has gone to some lengths to undermine IP rights belonging to Dame Vivienne Westwood OBE [see Westwood v Knight [2010] EWPCC 16, noted by the IPKat here, and Westwood v Knight [2011] EWPCC 11, noted by the IPKat here, as well as Katpost here] and this time his victim of choice was Scottish designer Alison Hendrick.

In this instance Geoffrey Hobbs QC was hearing an appeal against decisions to reject Knight's oppositions to Hendrick's applications to register a skull device mark and the word mark ARTJUNKIE. The Hearing Office had held, unsurprisingly, that Knights own skull device mark was invalid and he was ordered to pay costs. Knight appealed on the grounds that the Hearing Officer had failed to carry out a full and proper investigation into the evidence, some of which was lost or wrongly excluded, and that his decisions were influenced by comments made about Knight in an earlier judgment in unrelated proceedings.

The Hearing Officer had found that Hendrick was the senior user of the marks and that Knight had both copied her signs and registered his device in bad faith. As if that wasn't enough, it was held that Knight had flouted rules and directions, been aggressive in his approach to the litigation and had provided both false and unreliable evidence -- to the extent that it was appropriate to order him to pay the costs of the proceedings on an indemnity basis.

Solicitors and counsel acting for Hendrick pro bono sought the costs of the appeal under section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007.  They argued that, following a determination of the appeal in Hendricks favour, a referral could be made to the court under section 76(3) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 so as to trigger section 194 retroactively and entitle them to costs. Hendrick also suggested that the case be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions on the basis that Knight had falsified evidence in an attempt to pervert the course of justice.

While the Appointed Person dismissed Knight's appeal, he ordered that the parties were to bear their own costs of the appeal and that no referral would be made by the Tribunal to the Director of Public Prosecutions.

* There was nothing of legal interest in the substantive grounds of appeal. In the absence of manifest error or serious procedural irregularity, the Hearing Officer was entitled to find that Hendrick was the senior user of both the device and word marks, as well as the creator of the device that Knight had invalidly registered. 

* The question of Knight's conduct was more interesting. The Appointed Person agreed that there was ample justification for the Hearing Officers condemnation of Knights approach to the conduct of the litigation, and there was no sign that statements made about Knight in an earlier, unrelated, judgment had influenced the decisions. Regarding the Registry proceedings, the Hearing Officer was justified in concluding that Knights failure to produce originals or better copies of evidence, despite directions to do so, meant it was inevitable that he would be regarded as the source of false and unreliable evidence. In regard to the conduct of the appeal, he had adopted much the same approach. He was tirelessly obstructive, unreliable and aggressive when challenged. Further, his account of the hearing in the proceedings at first instance was substantially inaccurate and unreliable.

Knight had failed to comply with directions to file evidence in the Registry proceedings, which he was then seeking permission to adduce on appeal on the basis that the evidence had been filed but was lost. It was not possible to grant these requests (i) in light of his earlier non-compliance and (ii) in the absence of evidence that he had, in fact, duly filed evidence in the Registry proceedings.

Allegations of document fabrication should be determined following cross-examination and with the safeguards that apply to the giving of expert evidence in High Court proceedings under the Civil Procedure Rules (CPR 35). A failure to do so in the present case did not amount to a serious procedural irregularity, but did require a more detailed review of the decisions on appeal than would have been necessary or appropriate in other circumstances.

* As to costs, there was no power under Rules 67 and 73(4) of the Trade Mark Rules 2008 to make an award for costs incurred by a non-party in Registry proceedings, at first instance or on appeal to the Appointed Person. Nor could the procedural requirements for referral to a court under section 76(3) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 and rule 72 of the Trade Mark Rules 2008, for the purposes of seeking an award for costs where representation was pro bono under section 194 of the Legal Services Act 2007, be satisfied at such a late stage of proceedings.

* Should Knight's conduct be referred to the Director of Public Prosecutions? While anyone who considers that a crime has been committed -- such as an attempt to pervert the course of justice by falsifying evidence -- may raise the matter with the appropriate authorities. However, no special weight is given to a referral made by a tribunal. In the present case, making a referral would only add strife between the parties. Knights behaviour had been condemned at both first instance and on appeal, and in the circumstances, a referral would kill any prospects and possibilities of the parties disengaging from hostilities.

This Kat is pleased that Knight's appeal was dismissed, but there was no serious possibility of it succeeding.  He is however quite distressed that people like Knight, who go around filing other people's trade marks as though they are his own and then trying to grind them down through persistent, dishonest and apparently vindictive litigation, should be allowed to carry on using the trade mark system without any form of supervision. The District Court of The Hague issued an anti-trade mark filing injunction as long ago as 2011 in a comparable case (noted by the IPKat here).

Is this true for
IP rights?
Merpel is puzzled about the reference to the parties "disengaging from hostilities".  Alison Hendrick neither invited nor initiated any hostilities, unless the creation of a new brand can be said to be the initiation of hostilities, and it was never her wish nor her intention to engage in them: she was merely being trying to defend, through the Trade Mark Registry and the Appointed Person, the rights which every British government in recent years has ceaselessly described as being so important to the development and sustaining of a viable enterprise culture.  Merpel feels that a failure to have Knight bound by law -- if not by hand and foot -- to stop him filing other people's IP and then harassing them is an unsightly blot on the fair and improving landscape of IP litigation: if she only knew how to spell pusalliminuous, pusillenanious, pussylanimous pusillanimous she'd be using it right now ...

Some further reading on recent cases involving naughty litigants: 

  • Successful claimants in design infringement action jailed for fabricating evidence: Utopia Tableware v BBP Marketing Ltd [2013] EWHC 3483, noted by the IPKat here
  • Patent owner does enough to merit being sent to prison but runs into a merciful judge: Brundle v Perry [2014] EWHC 979. noted by the IPKat here.

Wednesday, 22 October 2014

BGH decision "Yellow dictionary" colour trade mark dispute

The German Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, short: BGH) has now published the full grounds (in German) of its recent decision in the "yellow dictionary" trade mark dispute between German publishing house Langenscheidt and RosettaStone (case reference I ZR 2284/12 “Gelbe Wörterbücher” of 18 September 2014); please recent IPKat report hereIn its decision the BGH found that the yellow product packaging and advertisements used by RosettaStone, a business which distributes language learning software, infringes the colour trade mark owned and extensively used by Langenscheidt.


What had happened? German dictionary publisher Langenscheidt and language software publisher Rosetta Stone both used different but similar shades of yellow on their products: Langenscheidt mostly for the covers of its bilingual dictionaries, Rosetta Stone mostly for its language learning software.  A conflict ensued and Langenscheidt took the matter to court, alleging trade mark infringement under § 14 (2) No. 2 German Trademark Act. The lower courts agreed (Landgericht of Cologne, case reference 31 O 352/11 of 19 January 2012 and Oberlandesgericht Cologne, case reference 6 U 38/12 of 9 November 2012). They ordered an injunction of Rosetta Stone’s use of the colour yellow and declared it liable for damages and costs. 
Rosetta appealed and applied for a cancellation of Langescheidt’s colour trade mark at the German Trade Mark & Patent Office. Unsuccessful in the first and second instances, this action is currently also pending at the BGH but has so far not been decided; (case reference I ZB 61/13).  The oral hearing in this case is scheduled for tomorrow….

Decision: in its only 60 paragraphs long decision the BGH confirmed the lower courts’ decisions and held that there was likelihood of confusion under § 14 (2) No. 2 German Trademark Act.

The BGH’s headnotes neatly summarise this concise  decision (Kat translation):

(a) A suspension of a trade mark infringement court proceedings with regard to a pending cancellation action against the trade mark on which the infringement proceedings are based will usually not be allowed, where there no utmost probability (“keine überwiegende Wahrscheinlichkeit”) of success in the cancellation proceedings.
(b) A heightened degree of distinctiveness of an abstract colour trade mark is not a necessary prerequisite for an assumption of trade mark use of the colour use objected to.
(c) There is a high product similarity between language learning software and bilingual  dictionaries.
(d) Where consumers regard a colour used on product packaging as a (secondary) sign and not as part of a combined sign, then the colour has to be the basis of a isolated comparison of similarity of the signs.
In more detail:  the BGH decided against a suspension of the infringement proceedings pending the outcome of Rosetta Stones’ cancellation action against Langescheidt’s mark because “its outcome was still uncertain”.  The BGH also found that Rosetta’s use of the colour yellow was “use as a trade mark” but acknowledged that consumers tend to view the use of a colour on products, packaging and advertisements as an ornamental embellishment and would only “in exceptional cases” interpret it as trade mark use. Nonetheless, the German market for bilingual dictionaries was strongly influenced by the use of colours functioning as indicators of trade origin. This not only affected related products, including Rosetta’s language learning software, but also meant that consumers would regard the Rosetta’s extensive use of the colour yellow in its market segment as a sign indicating trade origin. Langenscheidt’s registered colour trade mark had acquired an “average of degree of distinctiveness” due to its long term use.  

Also yellow
Referring in much detail to the CJEU’s recent decisions in the Specsavers (C-252/12) and the Oberbank and Santander cases (joined cases C-217/13, C-218/13), the BGH found a likelihood of confusion. The judges held that the claimant’s and defendant’s goods (bilingual dictionaries vs. language learning software) were very similar: stating that a dictionary was a “helpful and indispensable aid” when learning a language. Furthermore, the shades of yellow used by both parties were highly similar. Even though the defendant had also used its word mark “RosettaStone” and blue stone logo on its products and in advertisements, in an overall impression consumers would nonetheless regard the use of colour as an independent sign so that any comparison of the signs had to focus on the colour in isolation. Overall, and bearing in mind the average degree of distinctiveness of the claimant’s yellow colour trade mark and given the high degree of similarity between both, the signs and the goods, a likelihood of confusion could not be excluded.  

The issue of ‘trade marks and colour’ has been discussed in several recent CJEU decisions, notably Specsavers, Oberbank and Santander cases and is in the centre of OHIM’s recent “Common Communication on the Common Practice of the Scope of Protection of Black and White Marks” of 15 April 2014. The BGH’s decision contributes illustrates that consumer habits and market practices can have a strong impact on the assessment of likelihood of confusion.  It will be interesting to see what the BGH decides in RosettaStone’s cancellation action ...

Wednesday whimsies

"Thank you" 1.  In a world which is as full of anger, resentment and selfishly bad manners as the one in which we sometimes seem to be living, it never hurts to express a little gratitude from time to time.  It is in a spirit of genuine appreciation that the IPKat, Merpel and all the blogging team thank our readers for their continued interest and support.  Yesterday another milestone flashed by when we spotted that this blog had received its 11 millionth page view.  It goes without saying that we will do our best to maintain and improve on our current efforts to bring you a combination of good IP reporting and analysis, entertaining and sometimes provocative comment and stimulating debate.  Thanks!

"Thank you" 2. The IPKat received a very sweet email this morning from Stephen Green (Southampton Solent University), whose request for guidance on reading materials relating to US/UK comparison of character right protection was posted on Friday. Stephen tells us that he has already been rewarded with some helpful responses from readers.  This Kat is happy to pass this expression of gratitude to the blog's readership: as he has often said in the past, in the IP community there are always times when we need one another's help, so it warms the heart to see that help being so swiftly and freely given.  Thanks, again!

Around the weblogs.  The 1709 Blog's Ben Challis has produced yet another colourful CopyKat round-up of topical copyright issues.  Our good friend Laetitia Lagarde writes on Class 46 on an application for revocation of the LAMBRETTA Community trade mark that confronts IP Translator issues; the same blog reminds users of the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market that the closing date for the office's user satisfaction survey is the end of this week.  The jiplp weblog lists the contents of JIPLP's November issue and reproduces in full the editorial on the concept of the typical royalty rate for IP licences.

Limerick competition.  The IPKat's limerick competition, for which the prize is complimentary registration for CLT's Intellectual Property Round-Up for Non-Patenty People Conference [not its real name ..] in London next week, has already generated some fascinating entries. The IPKat has also received a good deal of correspondence concerning what constitutes a limerick.  For the avoidance of doubt, do read the explanation of limericks on Wikipedia, here, rather than risk disappointment or, worse ...

Katfriend and IP enthusiast Andrew J. Clay (Squire Patton Boggs) writes to tell him about Sebastian, a 3 ¾ year old boy who, being slightly oxygen starved at birth, lives with cerebral palsy. He can walk – but only on his tip toes as the muscles in his legs are under such tension that his feet are literally scrunched up. The constant muscle tension in his legs is literally bending the bones in his legs which means that, by the time Sebastian is eight, he will be consigned to a wheel chair for the rest of his life. However, if he has a surgical procedure to cut some of the nerves affecting his legs, he has a really good chance of being able to walk, run, play football, and do a whole host of other stuff more or less just like the rest of us [Merpel has never seen Andrew run, let alone play football, but she's prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt ...]. For an optimal outcome he needs to have this operation in the spring of 2015. The operation is not available in the UK on the National Health Service so his parents are raising £75,000 so he can have the operation in the US, performed by a leading specialist for this surgical procedure. So far they have so raised just over £30,000.  Andrew is going to do a sponsored bike ride across the north of England from Morecombe to Bridlington – about 160 miles – on Friday 31 October to raise money for Sebastian’s operation. This Kat thinks this is jolly decent of him and has already sponsored him; he hopes readers will do likewise. You can read Sebastian's full story here and can sponsor Andrew by following this link.

Patentability: a perpetual problem

First law of thermodynamics strikes again. Peter Crowley v United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office (unreported, but noted on the Lawtel subscription-only service) is one of those cases that should never be allowed to happen. It's an extempore Patent Court, England and Wales, decision of Mr Justice Mann on a patent-related topic that is sufficiently simple that even one of the Patent Court's non-technically educated judges can handle it safely.

Kats' Law of Thermodynamics: more energy
is expended in trying to shift the cat from
in front of the fire than is absorbed
by sitting in front of it yourself ...
This was an appeal by Peter Crowley against the decision of IPO hearing officer Mr B. Micklewright (decision O/389/13 of 27 September 2013) to refuse his patent application relating to a machine which, Crowley maintained, produced a surplus of energy to that which was needed in order to operate the machine. In short, Crowley's perpetual motion machine, consisted of a vertical machine with a conveyor belt, draped down both sides, to which there were attached 12 bags, six on each side of the machine. This machine operated in a circular fashion: downward pressure was achieved by filling the six bags on one side with water, which by the operation of gravity moved down, thereby driving the other six bags on the other side of the machine upwards. At the bottom of the belt, the filled bags engaged with a pressure roller, which squeezed the water out of the bags and into a series of ducts, which then carried the water to back to the top of the machine, where it was used to fill empty bags. Valves controlled the emptying and filling of the bags.

The hearing officer rejected this application on the ground that the machine contravened the first law of thermodynamics which states that energy can be neither created nor destroyed. This being so, it was impossible for the machine to rotate continuously. Rather, it would gradually slow down and eventually come to a halt on account of the energy losses inflicted on it by the forces of friction and turbulence. In legal terms, this meant that the invention was not patentable since it was incapable of industrial application under sections 1(1) and 4(1) of the Patents Act 1977.

Crowley, who represented himself, did not deny that the first law of thermodynamics applied but contended that, since gravity was introduced into the system for operating his machine, it would indeed be possible for the machine to produce a surplus of energy over that which was needed for the machine to function.

Mr Justice Mann dismissed the appeal.

* In the first place, neither the hearing officer's analysis nor his conclusion could be faulted, since it was inevitable that there would be some energy losses in the machine through friction and turbulence, as well as in the compression roller and the valves. Energy might also be spent in inflating the bags with water and, if not, in removing water from the bags. This being so, Crowley's design plainly contravened the principles of the conservation of energy.

* Crowley's explanation of the machine's operation showed a misunderstanding as to the system to which the first law of thermodynamics applied: the relevant system had to be the machine combined with the force of gravity and, when the principles of the conservation of energy were applied to that combination, it was clear that the energy losses involved in the functioning of the machine would mean that the machine would not experience the continuous rotation claimed by Crowley.

* In any event, it was plain that the machine would not be able to generate any surplus energy to enable it to be put to any industrial purposes.

* Crowley's appeal was sufficiently deficient so as to be labelled as totally without merit since it was highly unlikely that Crowley would be able to upset principles as established as the first law of thermodynamics.

The IPKat has written about perpetual motion patents in the past: see eg "UK-IPO gets tougher on perpetual motion" (here) and "The continuing incredible adventures of Dr Randell Mills" (here). While it seems a terrible waste of time and effort to apply for patents for inventions that contravene the first law of thermodynamics, it seems to him to be a terrible waste of time and effort to have to go through the procedure of rejecting them.  Says Merpel: why not have a special class of perpetual motion patents, which applicants can happily be granted?  If they don't work, there shouldn't be any problem infringing them, after all.

Second law of thermodynamics here
Third law of thermodynamics here

Tuesday, 21 October 2014

EPO Relaxes Unity Procedural Rules - how it works in practice

Sometimes, topical and important IP developments do not lend themselves to levity or cat-based metaphors.  The relaxing of the procedural rules of the European Patent Office, in the case that the claims of an International application under the Patent Cooperation Treaty are considered not to fulfill the requirements of unity of invention when regional phase is entered before the EPO, is one such case.  This Kat is delighted that his colleague and authoritative commentator on the European Patent Convention Derk Visser has wrestled with the practical application of the new rules and their interplay with existing rules, and has submitted the following explanation of the change to Rule 164 EPC that comes into effect shortly (briefly reported by the IPKat last year here).  Over now to Derk:

1 Amendment of Rule 164 EPC

Merpel contemplates unity of invention
In under a fortnight, on 1 November 2014, the amended Rule 164 of the European Patent Convention will enter into force. The amendment will make the life of Euro-PCT applicants easier by allowing more inventions to be searched on entry into the European phase.

Under the old Rule 164 (links here at the time of writing, but this will probably be over-written in due course) the possibility to have inventions searched on entry into the European phase other than the ones searched in the international phase was very limited. If the EPO was not the International Searching Authority (ISA), the applicant could amend the claims without restriction (provided of course they are disclosed in the application as filed) and the EPO would search only the invention first mentioned in the claims (the so-called supplementary European search). Any non-unitary inventions could not be searched on entry. If the EPO was ISA, no search would be carried out on entry and the applicant had to continue prosecution with the invention or one of the inventions searched by the ISA. As a result, many applicants who did not want to prosecute the invention searched by the ISA had to file divisional applications on entry, trying to avoid paying fees for the discontinued parent application.

The amendment of Rule 164 redresses the imbalance between applicants that may use an ISA other than the EPO and those that have to use the EPO. Rule 164(1) gives the search procedure for the former and Rule 164(2) for the latter. A summary of the new search procedures will be given below. Further details can be found in OJ EPO 2013, 503 and OJ EPO 2014, A70.

2 Amendment of the application
On entry into the European phase under the new procedure, the applicant may make any amendment allowed by Article 123(2) EPC, i.e. any amendment that does not extend the subject-matter of the PCT application as filed. He may continue the prosecution before the EPC with the claims as originally filed in the PCT application; he may use the claims as amended in the international phase; he may amend the claims using subject-matter from the claims as originally filed or from the description. The amended claims need not be unitary with the claims pending in the international phase.

These voluntary amendments may be filed either on entry into the European phase or in response to the Rule 161 communication. The Rule 161 communication is issued shortly after entry into the European phase and gives the applicant a 6-month period for response. If the EPO was ISA and has noted deficiencies in the application, which it usually does, it will draft a negative written opinion. The applicant must address these deficiencies in his response to the Rule 161 communication, by argument and / or amendments.

3 Searches where the EPO was not ISA
If the EPO was not ISA, the applicant has to pay normally a search fee and an examination fee on entry. A search division of the EPO will search the claims as pending after any amendment on entry and in response to the Rule 161 communication. The European search is independent of any search carried out by the ISA.

The search examiner assesses the unity of these claims and, if found to be unitary, the new procedure under Rule 164(1) will not be applied and the search examiner will carry out a supplementary search. When completed, the supplementary search report with search opinion will be sent to the applicant. The EPO will invite him to respond to the search opinion and indicate whether he wants to proceed with the application in view of the search results.

If the claims are found to be non-unitary, the search examiner will draft a partial supplementary search report for the invention first mentioned in the claims. The EPO sends the partial search report to the applicant and, new in the procedure, invites him to pay further search fees for the other inventions. The applicant will receive a communication with a search report and search opinion for each invention for which he has paid. He will be invited to select one of the searched inventions for prosecution, restrict the claims to this invention and respond to the appropriate search opinion. The other inventions can be pursued in divisional applications.

Any further search fee paid under Rule 164(1) will be refunded if the applicant requests so and can convince the EPO that the non-unity opinion was not justified.

The EPO will invite the applicant whether he wants to proceed with the application in view of the search results. On receipt of a positive response the examining division will start the substantive examination of the selected invention.

If the applicant does not want to continue the prosecution of the application, he can withdraw the application or not respond to the invitation from the EPO to confirm that he wants to proceed after the search. The examination fee paid on entry will be refunded, because the examination has not yet started.

4 Searches where the EPO was ISA
If the EPO was ISA, the applicant has to pay normally an examination fee on entry; he does not have to pay a search fee on entry. If the claims, pending after any amendment on entry or in response to the Rule 161 communication, are already searched by the EPO as ISA, the new Rule 164(2) procedure will not be carried out and the examining division will start the substantive examination.

If the claims cover inventions that are not searched by the ISA, the examining division will under the new procedure inform the applicant and invite him to pay a search fee for each such invention. The EPO will send the search results and any objections relating to each invention for which a search fee is paid in an annex to an Article 94(3) or Rule 71(3) communication. They are not sent as a search report, because these searches are not carried out by a search division but by an examining division.

Any search fee paid under Rule 164(2) will be refunded if the applicant requests so and can convince the EPO that the non-unity opinion was not justified.

The applicant will be invited to select one of the searched inventions for prosecution and restrict the claims to this invention. The other inventions can be pursued in divisional applications.

If the applicant does not want to proceed with the application, he can withdraw the application or have it deemed withdrawn by not responding or paying. The examination fee, paid on entry, will not be refunded.

5 Three further issues
a) Neither the amended Rule 164(2) nor the new Guidelines, which also enter into force on 1 November 2014  (currently link here at the time of writing, but this will probably be over-written in due course)  explain when the EPO as designated or elected office considers an invention not to have been searched by the EPO as ISA (see the above section 4). A possible explanation is provided in par. 13 of the Notice from the EPO in OJ EPO 2014 A70, which suggests that an invention is considered as not searched by the EPO as ISA if the invention does not combine with a searched invention or a searched group of inventions to form a single general inventive concept. This interpretation is in line with Rule 137(5).

b) When the EPO has acted as ISA, the applicant must pay the examination fee on entry into the European phase or, if in an exceptional case the publication of the international search report is late, within six months from that publication; the examining division will become responsible for the Euro-PCT application on payment of the examination fee, which is usually on entry (see the above section 4). The moment the fee must be paid and the examining division becomes responsible is ultimately based on the interpretation of Article 153(6) EPC. According to document CA/91/13 of the EPO Administrative Council, par. 30, explaining new Rule 164(4), ‘the term “European search report” is to be understood as “international search report” (ISR) if the EPO acted as (S)ISA’. Since the examining division is responsible for the Rule 164(2) searches, they are therefore regarded as a ‘search incident’ during examination.

When the EPO has not acted as ISA, the Guidelines C-II, 1.2 require that the examination fee also be paid on entry into the European phase or, if late, within six months from the publication of the international search report. The basis is again that the European search report is equated with the international search report. However, in this case the examining division does not become responsible on payment. Instead the search division will first carry out a supplementary search (see OJ EPO 2014 A70 par. 12). Only after a positive response of the applicant on the invitation whether to proceed with the application the examining division will become responsible under Rule 10 EPC. This change of responsibility is only possible if the European search report in Article 153(6) EPC is equated with the supplementary search report.

Hence, the interpretation of Article 153(6) EPC appears to be different for different parts of the procedure. A consistent interpretation of would require either that the examining division is responsible from the moment of payment or a deferral of the obligation to pay till six months after the transmission of the supplementary search report. However, the latter does not match with Rule 70(1) EPC, which counts the six months from publication of the search report, because the supplementary search report is not published.

[This Kat notes that this constitutional issue and dual interpretation of Article 153(6) EPC is not of itself new, but that this oddity is highlighted by new Rule 164 EPC, in particular the fact that the search under Rule 164(1) EPC is carried out by the search division, whereas the superficially similar search under Rule 164(2) EPC is carried out by the examining division.]

c) The EPO has provided two different wordings for the transitional provision for entry into force of the amended Rule 164. The decision of the Administrative Council (OJ EPO 2013, 503) states:

“Rule 164(1) EPC as amended by Article 1 of this decision shall apply to any application for which the supplementary European search report under Article 153(7) EPC has not been drawn up at the date of its entry into force.”

The date of entry into force is 1 November 2014. The Notice from the EPO (OJ EPO 2014 A70, par. 23) has:

“Amended Rule 164(1) EPC applies to any application for which the supplementary European search report under Article 153(7) EPC has not been drawn up by 31 October 2014.”

What is the moment in time that the applicant must check whether or not the supplementary search has been drawn up? There are also two different wordings for the transitional provision of Rule 164(2).  [This Kat thinks that the intention is that if the supplementary European search report is dated 31 October or earlier old rules apply, and if 1 November or later new rules apply, but agrees with Derk that there seems no rationale for the two different wordings and it is not abundantly clear that they mean the same thing.  Is the second wording intended to "correct" the first (which is the legally authoritative wording)?]

Comments from readers are particularly solicited in relation to these three final conundrums.

Tripp Trapp and the Third Dimension: a study in trade mark registrability

It's catch-up time again as the impossible quest to keep abreast of all the major IP rulings continues and this Kat gets the feeling that he is not so much making progress as merely chasing his tail.  Case C‑205/13 Hauck GmbH & Co. KG v Stokke A/S, Stokke Nederland BV, Peter Opsvik and Peter Opsvik A/S was decided on 18 September, but this Kat -- who has been beset by a succession of happy distractions -- has only just got round to writing it up for the weblog.  It's a ruling of the Second Chamber of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) which, as is so often the case, seems somehow less important after judgment has been given than we thought it might be when we were still awaiting it in a state of attentive uncertainty. 

The background to this action is that Opsvik designed the well-known ‘Tripp Trapp’ children’s chair which, explained the CJEU, was "constructed with sloping uprights, to which all elements of the chair were attached, as well as an L-shaped frame of uprights and gliders (sliding plates) which, according to the referring court (the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden, the Supreme Court of the Netherlands) give it a high level of originality". This chair design had won praises and prizes and had even been displayed in museums. Stokke made and sold ‘Tripp Trapp’ chairs in Scandinavia from 1972 and in the Netherlands since 1995.  In May 1998 Stokke applied to register as a Benelux trade mark a three-dimensional trade mark resembling the ‘Tripp Trapp’ children’s chair. The trade mark was registered in the name of Stokke for ‘chairs, especially high chairs for children’ and was represented by the shape depicted on the right. 

But Stokke was not alone in the market: Hauck made, distributed and sold its own children’s articles, including two chairs named ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’.  In Germany, in proceedings between the same parties, the Oberlandesgericht Hamburg (Higher Regional Court, Hamburg) held that the ‘Tripp Trapp’ chair was protected by German copyright and that the ‘Alpha’ chair infringed that copyright.

No doubt fortified by this ruling, Stokke then brought a separate action in the Netherlands before the Rechtbank ’s-Gravenhage (District Court, The Hague), claiming that Hauck’s making and selling of the ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’ chairs infringed both its copyrights and its Benelux trade mark registration, seeking damages.  Hauck counterclaimed for a declaration that Stokke’s Benelux Tripp Trapp trade mark was invalid.  At trial, the Rechtbank fully upheld Stokke’s claims in so far as they were based on what the CJEU calls Stokke’s "exploitation rights", but also upheld the counterclaim for a declaration that the Benelux trade mark was invalid.

Hauck then appealed to the Gerechtshof te’s-Gravenhage (Court of Appeal, The Hague, Netherlands), which again held that the ‘Tripp Trapp’ chair was protected by copyright and that the ‘Alpha’ and ‘Beta’ chairs came within the scope of that copyright, but that the registration of the three-dimensional trade mark was invalid.  In its view the attractive appearance of the ‘Tripp Trapp’ chair gave that product substantial value and its shape was determined by the very nature of the product — it being a safe, comfortable, reliable children’s chair. Thus, said the Gerechtshof, that mark was a sign consisting exclusively of a shape corresponding to the grounds for refusal or invalidity set out in the first and third indents of Article 3(1)(e) of First Council Directive 89/104, this directive having been repealed and substantially re-enacted by the current trade mark directive, Directive 2008/95 [Katnote: the three indents in Article 3(1)(e) bar and/or invalidate registration of
(e) signs which consist exclusively of:
- the shape which results from the nature of the goods themselves, or
- the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result, or
- the shape which gives substantial value to the goods].
Hauck then brought a further appeal in cassation before the Hoge Raad, while Stokke lodged a further cross-appeal. The referring court rejected Hauck's appeal, but considered that the cross-appeal on the issue of registrability of the trade mark called for the interpretation of Article 3(1)(e) of the directive which, to date, has not been covered by the CJEU's case-law.  This being so, it decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘1.      (a)      Does the ground for refusal or invalidity in [the first indent of] Article 3(1)(e) of [the trade marks directive], namely that [three-dimensional] trade marks may not consist exclusively of a shape which results from the nature of the goods themselves, refer to a shape which is indispensable to the function of the goods, or can it also refer to the presence of one or more substantial functional characteristics of goods which consumers may possibly looks for in the goods of competitors?

(b)      If neither of those alternatives is correct, how should the provision then be interpreted?

2.      (a)      Does the ground for refusal or invalidity in [the third indent of] Article 3(1)(e) [of the trade marks directive], namely, that [three-dimensional] trade marks may not consist exclusively of a shape which gives substantial value to the goods, refer to the motive (or motives) underlying the relevant public’s decision to purchase?

      (b)      Does a “shape which gives substantial value to the goods” within the meaning of the aforementioned provision exist only if that shape must be considered to constitute the main or predominant value in comparison with other values (such as, in the case of high chairs for children, safety, comfort and reliability) or can it also exist if, in addition to that value, other values of the goods exist which are also to be considered substantial?

      (c)      For the purpose of answering Questions 2(a) and 2(b), is the opinion of the majority of the relevant public decisive, or may the court rule that the opinion of a portion of the public is sufficient in order to take the view that the value concerned is “substantial” within the meaning of the aforementioned provision?

      (d)      If the latter option provides the answer to Question 2(c), what requirement should be imposed as to the size of the relevant portion of the public?

3.      Should Article 3(1)(e) of [the trade marks directive] be interpreted as meaning that the ground for exclusion referred to in subparagraph (e) of that article also exists if the [three-dimensional] trade mark consists of a sign to which the content of [the first indent] applies and which, for the rest, satisfies the content of [the third indent]?’

The CJEU ruled as follows:

* In terms of interpretation, the ground for refusal of registration set out in the first indent of Article 3(1)(e) pursues the same objective as the grounds set out in the second and third indents and must therefore be interpreted in a way that is consistent with the aims of the other two indents. Thus, when applying the first indent correctly, you have to identify the essential characteristics — ie the most important elements — of the sign concerned on a case-by-case basis [in other words, don't imagine for a moment that a characteristic that is found to be caught by the indent in one case will be equally caught by it in another], basing your assessment either on the overall impression produced by the sign or on an examination of each the components of that sign in turn [This is interesting: when comparing marks for the purposes of opposition or infringement, one has to go for the overall impression of each rather than salami-slicing them into individual similar or dissimilar components, as in Case C-329/02SAT.1 SatellitenFernsehen v OHIM. However, when separating registrable from unregistrable elements of the same mark, an overall assessment or the piecemeal approach are equally acceptable].

* When applying the first indent, you also have to take account of the fact that the concept of a ‘shape which results from the nature of the goods themselves’ means that shapes with essential characteristics which are inherent to the generic function or functions of such goods must, in principle, also be denied registration. The reservation of such characteristics to a single economic operator would make it difficult for competing undertakings to give their goods a shape which would be suited to the use for which those goods are intended -- these being the essential characteristics that consumers look for in the products of competitors, given that they are intended to perform an identical or similar function [what about features of shape that that are not essential, but which give rise to essentiality with regard to the shape of other goods which are intended to be interoperative with them?].

The fact that the shape of a product is regarded as giving it substantial value does not mean that other characteristics may not also give the product significant value [Hmm, wonders Merpel: what, at para.30, is the difference between "substantial" and "significant"?]. Thus "the aim of preventing the exclusive and permanent right which a trade mark confers from serving to extend indefinitely the life of other rights which the EU legislature has sought to make subject to limited periods requires that the possibility of applying the third indent ... not be automatically ruled out when, in addition to its aesthetic function, the product concerned also performs other essential functions".

* The concept of a ‘shape which gives substantial value to the goods’ cannot be limited purely to the shape of products having only artistic or ornamental value, as there is otherwise a risk that products which have essential functional characteristics as well as a significant aesthetic element will not be covered.

* Where the perception of the target public must be taken into account since it is essential for the purposes of determining whether the sign filed for registration as a trade mark enables the goods or services concerned to be recognised as originating from a particular undertaking, that obligation cannot be imposed in the context of Article 3(1)(e).

* While the presumed perception of the sign by the average consumer is not a decisive element when applying the third indent, it may still be a relevant criterion of assessment when identifying the essential characteristics of that sign. 

* The three grounds for refusal of registration in the indents to Article 3(1)(e) operate independently of one another. as is shown by the fact that they are set out as successive points, coupled with the use of the word ‘exclusively’. This being so, the fact that a sign can be denied registration on the basis of a number of grounds for refusal is irrelevant so long as any one of those grounds fully applies to that sign.

Accordingly, the CJEU summarises its position as follows:

1.      The first indent of Article 3(1)(e) ... must be interpreted as meaning that the ground for refusal of registration set out in that provision may apply to a sign which consists exclusively of the shape of a product with one or more essential characteristics which are inherent to the generic function or functions of that product and which consumers may be looking for in the products of competitors.

2.      The third indent of Article 3(1)(e) ... must be interpreted as meaning that the ground for refusal of registration set out in that provision may apply to a sign which consists exclusively of the shape of a product with several characteristics each of which may give that product substantial value. The target public’s perception of the shape of that product is only one of the assessment criteria which may be used to determine whether that ground for refusal is applicable.

3.      Article 3(1)(e) ... must be interpreted as meaning that the grounds for refusal of registration set out in the first and third indents of that provision may not be applied in combination.

There are no surprises in this ruling, which now leaves it for the Hoge Raad to apply it on the facts as found.  This, on Merpel's reading, makes it look likely that the Tripp Trapp chair's days as a registered Benelux shape mark are numbered.

Falling out of high chairs here
More on Tripp Trapp here
Von Trapp here

Finally, here's a special report by Katfriend and noted IP scholar Henning Hartwig (Bardehle Pagenberg), which discusses this case in greater analytical depth.

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