Trae mark law, case II GSK 380/07

March 5th, 2008, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Polish Patent Office refused to recognize the right of protection for CHECK-UP IR-0595827 registered under the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks for Zabaione GmbH and used to designate the goods in class 25, such as clothing for men, women and children and bars for clothes. The PPO ruled that the questioned sign is similar to CHECK-IN IR-0552746 trade mark registered with an earlier priority from 19 June 2002, for Hohe-Modelle Maria Hohe GmbH & Co., intended for marking of the goods in Class 25 such as outerwear for ladies and children.

The PPO ruled that to fulfill the provisions of Article 132(2)(ii) of the IPL, it is necessary to accumulate of the several factors: the signs must be similar to each other, the goods for which trade marks are meant should be homogenous, and as the consequence of the similarity of the signs and the goods, there is a risk of confusion as to the origin of the goods covered by those trade marks.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 23 April 2007, casefile VI SA / Wa 145/07 dismissed the complaint filed by legal predecessor of Zabaione GmbH. In the opinion of the VAC, the Polish Patent Office correctly refused to recognize the right of protection for a trademark CHECK-UP, pointing to its similarity to CHECK-IN trade mark and the similarity of the goods in class 25, and acknowleded that it may lead to the risk of misleading the public. According to the Court, the PPO correctly assessed the similarity of signs, and rightly pointed out that the trade marks are similar to each other both visually and phonetically because of the first parts of the two signs. Both trade marks are composed of two elements, and have the same first part, “CHECK” and accordingly the suffix “UP” in the applicant’s character and the suffix “IN” in the opposed sign interconnected by a hyphen. According to the Court, the signs are also similar in the aural aspect – they are pronounced very similarly. Different suffixes are not sufficient to prove diversity of both signs. These are components are of secondary importance. The court shared the view of the PPO that the recipient pays more attention to the first elements of signs, and less to the endings, because visually the first letters and syllables attract the most attention and are better remembered. The average customer usually does not examine in detail all the elements of the trade mark, but it perceives a given sign as a general impression.

The VAC agreed with the applicant that the two signs have completely different meaning in English, however, the similarity of signs shall be always from the perspective of the average consumer. The knowledge of English in Polish society is not yet sufficiently widespread. For a person who does not speak English language these signs are fanciful.

The Court shared the opinion of the PPO that both signs are intended to designate similar goods in class 25 and the goods are complementary. According to the Court, a customer who knows goods under the brand CHECK-IN, may think the same company introduces a new range of clothing for men, women and children, branded with CHECK-UP trade mark. The Court emphasized the fact that Article 132(2)(ii) of the IPL uses the term “identical or similar goods”, i.e. the similarity of the goods is not identical as their identity. Similarity occurs in the case of goods of the same kind of similar purpose and conditions of sales. Clothes, for which both trade marks are deisgnated are undoubtedly similar goods regardless of their differences in assortment. The average customer can therefore assume that they are produced by the same manufacturer. An outerwear manufacturer of high quality and original clothes designed for specific audiences, could in fact release a new line of clothing of average standard intended for a wider audience, marking it with CHECK-UP trade mark.

Referring to the applicant’s argument that the two signs benefit from protection in Switzerland and Germany, the Court emphasized that protection of trademarks in each country and the guarantee that effective protection is not absolute. The registration under the Madrid Agreement does not mean that a trade mark is protected automatically in each Member State. The applicant is seeking trademark protection on the Polish territory, so Polish law is applicable to the assessment of the trade mark registrability. The Company decided to file a cassation complaint.

The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 28 February 2008, case file II GSK 380/07 dismissed the cassation. The SAC noted that the Company has not provided any arguments concerning the erroneous interpretation of Article 132(2)(ii) of the IPL. It did not indicated whether there was the breach of any regulations on administrative proceedings. If there is no infringement of the proceedings, it can not be argued that there is a breach of substantive law, in this case, Article 132(2)(ii), just because the plaintiff thinks the facts are different. The SAC ruled that if the cassation complaint is based on allegation of improper application of a given provision of substantive law, the arguments included in such a complaint should explain why the accepted legal basis for settlement of the contested provision has no relation to the facts established, and what other provision the court should apply.