The Court of Justice of the European Communities gave its decision today in Case C‑398/07 P, Waterford Wedgwood plc v Assembled Investments (Proprietary) Ltd, Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market, a Community trade mark opposition which has been running for eight and a half years.
In December 1999, Assembled Investments applied to register the figurative sign on the right as a Community trade mark for "alcoholic beverages, namely wines produced in the Stellenbosch district, South Africa" (Class 33). Waterford opposed, citing its earlier Community word mark WATERFORD for 'articles of glassware, earthenware, chinaware and porcelain’ (Class 21). The serious opposition was based on (i) likelihood of confusion under Article 8(1)(a)(b) of Council Regulation 40/94 and taking of unfair advantage of its reputation without due cause under Article 8(5).
The Opposition Division rejected the opposition in its entirety: there was no likelihood of confusion since the goods were not similar (the fact that wine is generally drunk in a glass being insufficient in this respect) and the evidence provided by Waterford was insufficient to establish the repute of the trade mark on which the opposition was based. Waterford succeeded however on appeal, where the Board of Appeal found that the trade mark applied for and the WATERFORD mark were highly similar on the visual, phonetic and conceptual levels for the relevant consumers in the United Kingdom and Ireland and that wine and articles of glassware were similar on account of the high degree to which they were complementary. Finding for Waterford under Article 8(1)(b), the Board of Appeal concluded that there was no need to rule on the Article 8(5) ground of opposition.
Waterford then appealed to the Court of Justice, which today dismissed its appeal. Said that Court:
"... the Court of First Instance ... carried out a detailed assessment of the similarity of the goods in question on the basis of the factors [laid down by the Court of Justice]. ... it cannot be alleged that the Court of First Instance did not did not take into account the distinctiveness of the earlier trade mark when carrying out that assessment, since the strong reputation of that trade mark relied on by Waterford Wedgwood can only offset a low degree of similarity of goods for the purpose of assessing the likelihood of confusion, and cannot make up for the total absence of similarity. Since the Court of First Instance found ... that the goods in question were not similar, one of the conditions necessary in order to establish a likelihood of confusion was lacking ... and therefore, the Court of First Instance was right to hold that there was no such likelihood".