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Wednesday, 12 May 2010

Design for 'instruments for writing': Beifa wins on appeal

The IPKat had been waiting impatiently for today's appeal in Case T‑148/08, Beifa Group Co. Ltd v OHIM, Schwan-Stabilo Schwanhaüßer GmbH & Co. KG, since he knew -- after the battle in the Board of Appeal when Beifa threw every argument it could find against the challenge of Stabilo -- that it would be hard-fought. The appeal also had some curiosity in that it was the first Community registered design appeal of this nature to reach the General Court.


What were the facts? In short, Beifa registered the design depicted above as a Community design. Stabilo sought cancellation, basing its challenge to the design registration's validity upon its earlier German trade mark (right). The Cancellation Division declared the mark invalid, finding that Stabilo's earlier mark was used in Beifa's design, in that a sign with all the characteristic features of the three-dimensional shape of the earlier mark, and in consequence similar to that mark, was incorporated ito Beifa's design. Since the goods covered by the design in dispute were identical to those covered by the earlier mark, there was a likelihood of confusion on the part of the relevant public, which gave Stabilo the right, under Paragraph 14(2)(2) of the Markengesetz (the German trade mark law) to prohibit the use of the sign used in Beifa's design.

The Third Board of Appeal dismissed Beifa's appeal.

First the Board held that, since the earlier mark had not been declared invalid by the competent German authorities under the relevant provisions of the Markengesetz, it had to be regarded as a distinctive sign within the meaning of Article 25(1)(e) of Regulation 6/2002 (the Community Design Regulation). For the purposes of that provision, an earlier sign does not need to be reproduced identically in a subsequent Community design: it is sufficient that it be incorporated, as such, in that design.

Next the Board held that, although there were some differences between Beifa's design and the earlier mark, it was possible to discern the characteristic features of that mark in the design, which meant that use of the design in dispute would be in breach of the exclusive rights conferred on Stabilo as proprietor of the earlier mark, under Paragraph 14 of the Markengesetz and that Article 25(1)(e) of Regulation No 6/2002 applied. This being so, there was no need for the Board to rule on the relevance of other evidence relied on by Stabilo in support of its application for a declaration of invalidity, including a judgment of 18 January 2007 of the Oberlandesgericht Frankfurt am Main.

Beifa was successful today with regard to the comparison of the design with the earlier mark. To put it in the Court's own words:
"113 ... it is apparent from the registration certificate for the earlier mark ... that that mark is figurative, consisting in the image reproduced ... above. In the light of that aspect, all the parties agreed at the hearing that the only mark taken into consideration by the various adjudicating bodies within OHIM, when considering the application for a declaration of invalidity, was the earlier mark, which is a figurative mark, a fact which was recorded in the minutes.

114 In the absence of any other explanation in the decision of the Cancellation Division, the reference in that decision to the ‘three-dimensional shape’ of the earlier mark – a reference which is, at first sight, paradoxical in relation to a figurative mark – leads inescapably to the conclusion that, instead of basing its considerations on a comparison of the design in dispute with the earlier mark, the Cancellation Division compared that design with a three-dimensional mark which was not identified in its decision.

115 ... Stabilo had relied, in support of its application for a declaration of invalidity, not only on the earlier mark, but also, inter alia, on a three-dimensional mark registered in Germany under number 02911311 and corresponding to the image set out ... above.

116 That error on the part of the Cancellation Division was in no way rectified by the Board of Appeal. ... the Board of Appeal ... merely repeated the features attributed to the earlier mark by the Cancellation Division, without giving any indication that the Cancellation Division had referred, incorrectly, to a three-dimensional mark rather than to the earlier mark, or that those same features were also present in the earlier mark.

117 It follows that, since, in the contested decision, the Board of Appeal based its conclusion as to the likelihood of confusion between the design in dispute and the earlier mark on the comparison of that design with a sign other than the earlier mark, it erred in law and the contested decision must be annulled".
The IPKat is left with mixed feelings here. Yes, there was an error -- but this still looks to him as though a Community design registrant has effectively appropriated a right based on a popular and well-known product and got away with it. Merpel thinks there will be an appeal.

1 comment:

Filemot said...

This is a fascinating case because it leads to the need for owners of 3D marks that could be seen as figurative marks to re-register. In the UK the Philips shaver litigations related to figurative marks which were consistently interepreted as shape marks starting from Jacob J's judgment reported at [1998] R.P.C. 283 . He proceeded on the basis that the registration of the 208 mark covered a three-dimensional shape, because it “would be quite artificial to regard a straight picture of a thing, and the thing itself, as significantly different under a law of trade marks which permits shapes to be registered” (p.290). Seems like the General Court thinks he was wrong or am I?

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