Adidas v H&M

Thanks to the many people who have sent in translations. You can find one example in the comments section on this post.

A couple of weeks ago, the IPKat warned readers that Adidas v H&M was on the way. This is a reference concerning the role of the need to keep certain marks free for other traders once a mark has acquired distinctiveness, and also on the role of consumers' perceptions that the mark is an embellishment.

The decision of AG Ruiz-Colomer is now out, but sadly only in languages that the IPKat isn't clever enough to speak. Still, for the benefit of French-speaking readers, he concludes as follows:

Au vu des considérations qui précèdent, je propose à la Cour de répondre au Hoge Raad de la façon suivante:

«En appréciant l’étendue de la protection d’une marque qui ne consiste qu’en un signe correspondant à une des indications visées à l’article 3, paragraphe 1, sous c), de la première directive 89/104/CEE, du Conseil, du 21 décembre 1988, rapprochant les législations des États membres sur les marques, mais qui a acquis un caractère distinctif par l’usage et qui a été enregistrée en tant que telle, il convient de tenir compte de l’intérêt général à ne pas restreindre indûment la disponibilité de certains signes pour les autres opérateurs offrant des produits ou services semblables.

En revanche, lorsque le signe évoqué était initialement dépourvu de caractère distinctif, mais qu’il l’a acquis postérieurement par l’usage, les droits du titulaire de la marque ne sauraient être examinés à la lumière de l’impératif de disponibilité.»

Can anyone help the more linguistically challenged?


Olivier Van Droogenbroek (Crowell & Moring, Brussels) has just emailed the IPKat to say:
"I read the Dutch version of the AG's opinion.

„Bij de bepaling van de beschermingsomvang van een merk dat wordt gevormd door een aanduiding die beantwoordt aan de omschrijving in artikel 3, lid 1, sub c, van de Eerste richtlijn (89/104/EEG) van de Raad van 21 december 1988 betreffende de aanpassing van het merkenrecht der lidstaten, maar door het gebruik onderscheidend vermogen heeft verkregen en is ingeschreven, moet rekening worden gehouden met het algemene belang, dat de beschikbaarheid van bepaalde tekens niet ongerechtvaardigd wordt beperkt voor de andere marktdeelnemers die soortgelijke waren of diensten aanbieden.

Wanneer ditzelfde teken daarentegen geen intrinsiek onderscheidend vermogen bezit, maar later onderscheidend vermogen heeft verkregen als gevolg van het gebruik dat ervan is gemaakt, kunnen de rechten van de merkhouder niet aan de vrijhoudingsbehoefte worden getoetst.”
This means
"When determining the scope of protection of a trade mark which consists of an indication corresponding to the description given by article 3 § 1 sub c of the First Directive 89/104/EEC of the Council of 21 December 1988 to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trade marks, but which through use has obtained distinctiveness and is registered, one must take account of the general interest that the availability of certain signs is not unduly limited to other market players offering similar goods or services.

When on the contrary said sign has no intrinsic distinctiveness, but obtained distinctiveness later on as a result of its use, the rights of the trade mark holder cannot be tested to the freihaltebedurfnis".
Olivier adds: "Don't know if it makes sense".
Adidas v H&M Adidas v H&M Reviewed by Anonymous on Wednesday, January 16, 2008 Rating: 5


  1. The gist seems to be as follows:

    "In considering the scope of protection of a mark which consists exclusively of a sign corresponding to one of the indications in Article 3(1)(c) of Directive 89/104/EEC...but which has acquired distinctive character through use and has been registered as such, it is appropriate to consider the general interest in not unduly limiting the availability for use of certain signs to undertakings offering similar goods or services.

    On the other hand, where the sign in question was initially devoid of distinctive character but has subsequently acquired distinctive character through use, the rights of the owner of the mark should not be examined in the light of the overriding requirement of availability."

  2. Olivier has it right... of course the concept of "need to keep free" is never part of the reasoning for distinctiveness, only descriptiveness. It does, therefore, make sense that a similar approach is taken to the scope post registration.

    If the trade mark owner has educated the public then they should be entitled to benefit from their mark.

    The question is thus focused on two aspects:

    1. Is the nature of use such as to effect the trade mark;

    2. Is the sign sufficiently similar - taking into account the dominant and distinctive elements.

  3. Oh oh. Looks like the ECJ is further muddying the waters. Marks that face descriptiveness objections by definition also face non distinctiveness objections as per Postkanotoor.

    How then can they be treated differently in terms of determining scope.

    Prepare for more chaos.

  4. Dear Jeremy,

    check out Fabio Angelini's article fully commenting the opinion in CATCH US IF YOU CAN!!!

    Best wishes,

  5. Jane More O'Ferrall also sent the IPKat her version: "In the view of the above considerations, I propose that the Court should reply to the Hoge Raad as follows:
    "When considering the scope of protection of a mark which consists only of a sign which falls into one of the categories set out in Article 3 1 c of the 89/104 Council Directive of 21/12/1988 harmonising the trade mark laws of the member states, but that mark has acquired distinctive character through use and has been registered on the basis of that use, it is appropriate to take into account that it is in the public interest not to unduly limit the availability of certain signs for use by other parties offering similar goods or services.
    On the other hand, when the sign in question was initially devoid of distinctive character, but has acquired distinctive character through use, the rights of the proprietor should not be assessed in the light of the need to leave the sign available for use". Many thanks to Jane -- and to everyone else who took the trouble to respond.

  6. Great, now can someone tell us what the ECJ means ?


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