Trade mark law, case II GSK 210/06

December 29th, 2006, Tomasz Rychlicki

On 11 July 2000, the Polish Patent Office has granted the right of protection to Zakłady Farmaceutyczne Polfa-Łódź Spółka Akcyjna for word trade mark “calcium c” R-122184 for goods in Class 5 such as pharmaceutical products. On 25 May 2001, the PPO received a requested for the invalidation of “Calcium C” R-122184 trade mark. The applicant was arguing that the questioned sign does not have a distinctive character. According to the applicant, the term “calcium” and “c” represent information about the properties and composition of the product bearing the mark.

The PPO in its decision of 11 February 2005, invalidated the right of protection for “Calcium C” R-122184. The PPO claimed that the word of calcium derived from the Latin and has no distinctive character, i.e. it is an informational sign, which should be available to all entrpretanours performing economic activity. While referring to the possibility of acquisition of secondary meaning the PPO held that the owner did not provide any evidence on this circumstance. The PPO considered that the mere fact that the company made a substantial investments in product advertising, or show significant sales, does not constitute itself a secondary meaning. Polfa-Łódź filed a complaint against this decision

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgment of 20 February 2006 case file VI SA/Wa 1730/05 upheld the decision of the PPO. The VAC agreed that “Calcium C” does not have distinctive character. The Court stated that the sign is devoid of any fanciful elements, purely informational – indicating that the product is a calcium with vitamin C. The VAC ruled that in the interest of manufacturers of the pharmaceutical products is the exclusion of such signs from the registration, otherwise one individual entrepreneur could monopolize the use of these signs and that would lead to serious and unjustified restrictions on the activities of other entrepreneurs. Polfa-Łódź filed a cassation complaint.

The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 20 December 2006 case file II GSK 210/06 found the appeal well-founded. The SAC held that there was a breach of procedrual provisions because the VAC did not explain and did not consider the impact on the outcome of the case of studies of public opinion, indicating the market share of the disputed product labeled with “calcium c” trade mark and the size of the expenditures on the promotion and marketing. The VAC restricted itself to general statements. It was assumed that for obtaining a secondary meaning the products labeled with “calcium c” must be marketed and available to buyers (the actual use of the trade mark). There was no doubt that this condition for the product bearing “Calcium C” trade mark has been met. However, the SAC noted that is has to be remembered that a trade mark acquires distinctive character as a result of its use only when a sign is able to identify the goods as originating from a particular entrepreneur. Undoubtedly for the SAC the facts in this case were not examined in detail and exhaustive.The Court ruled that the administrative proceedings that concerns the invalidation of the right of protection does not exclude the duty of the administrative body (the PPO) to take all necessary steps to clarify the facts of a case and to resolve it and to comprehensively collect and examine all evidential material, although the burden of proof rests on the one who has the legal interest.

In the legal literature and case-law, it is considered that the typical descriptive signs are in fact components of the goods, even if the indication is only a basic (essential) component, for example, “sand” for the cosmetic agent, which is an essential component. The Court cited W. Włodarczyk, The distinctive ability of a trade mark, Lublin 2001, pp. 199-200. The informational character of a trade mark is not changed when someone is using a sign from foreign language, even in case of terms that come from a dead language (e.g. Latin), when it concerns the professional, or a part of the general Polish vocabulary. The Court concluded that in any case, it would not have been justified to say that the fact that a sign contains information about the composition of a product, a limine precludes its recognition as a fanciful and bars the opportunity to register it as a trade mark, especially since it is possible to acquire secondary meaning.