Impulse trade mark registration: no sweat, as AG gives his view

The Opinion of Advocate General Wahl was published today in Case C‑125/14 Iron & Smith Kft v Unilever NV, a request for a preliminary ruling by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) from the Hungarian Fővárosi Törvényszék -- that's the Budapest Municipal Court, if you didn't know ["I knew that", said Merpel ...].

Relying on its earlier Community word mark IMPULSE, leading brand owner Unilever NV opposed an application by Iron & Smith Kft. to register a colour figurative sign featuring the words ‘be impulsive’ as a Hungarian trade mark.  The Hungarian Intellectual Property Office (HIPO) found that Unilever had sold large quantities of and publicised the goods designated by its Community word mark IMPULSE in the United Kingdom and Italy, with that mark enjoying a 5% market share in the United Kingdom and a 0.2% market share in Italy [the product seems to be some sort of perfumed and/or deodorant body spray]. Even though this market share finding did not relate to Hungary, HIPO found that the reputation of the Community mark had been proved in a substantial part of the European Union and refused the application, adding that a risk of the later mark taking unfair advantage could not be ruled out.

Iron & Smith applied to the Fővárosi Törvényszék for annulment of the decision refusing the application for registration. Entertaining doubts as to the correct interpretation of Article 4(3) of European Union's much interpreted and indeed much misinterpreted trade mark directive, the referring court has now requested a preliminary ruling on the following questions:
‘(1) Is it sufficient, for the purposes of proving that a Community trade mark has a reputation within the meaning of Article 4(3)  …, for that mark to have a reputation in one Member State, including where the national trade mark application which has been opposed on the basis of such a reputation has been lodged in a country other than that Member State?

(2) May the principles laid down by [the CJEU] regarding the genuine use of a Community trade mark be applied in the context of the territorial criteria used when examining the reputation of such a mark?

(3) If the proprietor of an earlier Community trade mark has proved that that mark has a reputation in countries other than the Member State in which the national trade mark application has been lodged — which cover a substantial part of the territory of the European Union — may he also be required, notwithstanding that fact, to adduce conclusive proof in relation to that Member State?

(4) If the answer to [Question 3] is no, bearing in mind the specific features of the internal market, may a mark used intensively in a substantial part of the European Union be unknown to the relevant national consumer and therefore the other condition for the ground precluding registration in accordance with Article 4(3) of the Directive not be met, since there is no likelihood of detriment to, or unfair advantage being taken of, a mark’s repute or distinctive character? If so, what facts must the Community trade mark proprietor prove in order for that second condition to be met?’
This morning AG Wahl proposed that the CJEU answer the questions referred by the Fővárosi Törvényszék as follows:
(1) [Answering questions 1 and 2, correctly in this Kat's view] For the purposes of Article 4(3) ...  it may — depending on the specific mark which is described as enjoying a reputation and, accordingly, on the public concerned — be sufficient that a Community trade mark enjoys a reputation in one Member State, which does not need to be the State in which that provision is relied upon. In that regard, for the purposes of determining whether a reputation exists within the meaning of Article 4(3), the principles laid down in case-law in respect of the requirement to show genuine use of a trade mark are not relevant.

A Diary of the Saturdays, sponsored
by Unilever's Impulse
(2) Where the earlier Community trade mark does not enjoy a reputation in the Member State in which Article 4(3) ... is relied upon, in order to prove that, without due cause, unfair advantage is taken of, or detriment is caused to, the distinctive character or repute of the Community trade mark for the purposes of that provision, it is necessary to show that a commercially pertinent proportion of the relevant public in that Member State will make a link with the earlier trade mark. In that regard, the strength of the earlier mark constitutes an important factor for the purposes of proving such association [This Kat thinks that this is right too, though he thinks some big brand owners will not like it. However, he doubts that it will make a practical difference in many cases since, even if no unfair advantage is taken and no detriment inflicted, the chances of there being a likelihood of confusion will generally prevent the later mark being registered].
This Kat expects the CJEU to go along with AG Wahl's Opinion, though he would be the first to agree that many a surprising ruling has emerged from that august body.

What makes people sweat here and here
What makes people smell here and here
Impulse trade mark registration: no sweat, as AG gives his view Impulse trade mark registration: no sweat, as AG gives his view Reviewed by Jeremy on Tuesday, March 24, 2015 Rating: 5

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