For the half-year to 30 June 2014, the IPKat's regular team is supplemented by contributions from guest bloggers Alberto Bellan, Darren Meale and Nadia Zegze.

Two of our regular Kats are currently on blogging sabbaticals. They are David Brophy and Catherine Lee.

Wednesday, 16 April 2008

Citibank wins dilution case

Citigroup, the company responsible for Citibank has won a dilution case before the Court of First Instance.

Citi applied to register CITI in fancy script as a CTM for ‘customs agencies, property valuers, real estate agents, evaluation and administration of house contents’. Citigroup opposed, based on its family of marks consisting of or containing the word "Citi".

OHIM rejected the opposition with regard to the services of customs agencies under Art.8(5). The Board found that Citigroup didn't have a reputation in a family of marks containing the "citi" element. Only the CITIBANK mark had a reputation, and that reputation was limited to banking. Moreover, the applied-for CITI mark and the CITIBANK mark weren't similar.

The CFI avoided ruling on whether there was a family of "citi" marks with a reputation because it was possible to proceed on the basis of the CITIBANK mark having a reputation.

However, OHIM had slipped up in finding that CITI and CITIBANK were not similar since "citi" was the distinctive and dominant element of both marks. Thus the marks were visually, aurally and conceptually similar to the required degree.

OHIM hadn't got as far as ruling on whether there was dilution of the sort required to satisfy Art.8(5). Here there was an overlap between the two parties' clients, and those clients would most probably be familiar with CITIBANK, which could

"lead to free-riding, that is to say, it would take unfair advantage of the well-established reputation of the trade mark CITIBANK and the considerable investments undertaken by the applicants to achieve that reputation. That use of the trade mark applied for, CITI, could also lead to the perception that the intervener is associated with or belongs to the applicants and, therefore, could facilitate the marketing of services covered by the trade mark applied for. That risk is further increased because the applicants are the holders of several trade marks containing the component ‘citi’".

The IPKat reckons this was the correct decision. The Board's position on similarity of marks was always a bit strange here - so strange in fact that OHIM appears to have been arguing against the Board's decision. The Board saw the CITIBANK mark as a whole and didn't see CITI as distinctive or dominant. Moreover, Citigroup's reputation for CITIBANK bolstered the need to treat the mark as a whole, and not to single out the CITI element. The Kat is somewhat disappointed by the unfair advantage analysis though. In particular, rather a lot of it seems to come down to a likelihood of consumers being confused. If the EU wants a ground based on confusion where the parties' goods are disimilar, this should be explicit, rather than hiding behind unfair advantage.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hello Team,

Is there such a thing as a secret patent? Is there a way to patent a new natural remedy for a disease, or a new diet to cure obesity for example without making it public? This is to protect the inventor's rights while allowing him to make a deal with a multinational company to undergo additional research on volunteers in secret and develop a product in secret to be introduced to the international market when the cure is announced to the world?

Thank you so much for your help.

Anonymous said...

No, in all civilized countries the description of a patent application must be sufficiently clear and complete to allow a person skilled in the art to carry out the invention, and the patent application will be published 18 months of the priority date (i.e. first filing date). If this 18 months' period is not enough for your purposes, you could go for the option to file a patent application only in the US (so not in any country or region (like Europe) that publishes patent applications 18 months of the priority date), and to file together with your US patent application (so, not later) an explicit request not to publish your US patent application.

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