Trade mark law, II GSK 298/07

March 19th, 2008, Tomasz Rychlicki

In 2000 the PHU Makroterm K. Wąchała & A. Wąchała applied for the registration of the figurative and word mark MAKROTERM in classes 6, 9, 11 and 42. The Makro Cash and Carry company, who applied for the registration of the figurative and word mark MAKRO in classes 1–45 on 22 March 2000, opposed to the registration. Upon finding the observations groundless, the case was then decided by the Polish Patent Office (PPO).

Makro Cash and Carry claimed that the disputable mark imitated the MAKRO mark, used its renown and infringed the company’s right to a company name. Makroterm in turn said there was no likelihood of confusion since the disputed mark did not use the renown of the MAKRO mark because of the fact that Macro Cash and Carry failed to prove the MAKRO mark had been renowned. The Makroterm representative also said the MAKRO mark had not been universally known.

The PPO overruled MAKRO’s opposition. It decided that in assessing similarity one should not focus solely on one element – the “makro” word. It also said the MAKROTERM mark was one word combining the “makro” and “term” words into an original name that moreover had been put in a colourful design. According to the Office both marks brought about different associations in the minds of the relevant public. It decided that the marks themselves differed and did not examine similarity in goods offered by the companies. The Office also pointed out that the provided advertising materials concerned only the MAKRO CASH AND CARRY mark. With regard to the infringement of the right to a company name it decided the name was a compound one so there could not have been any infringement.

Makro Cash and Carry filed an appeal against the decision of the Polish Patent Office. It read that the Office had not assessed the similarity of goods offered by both companies and with identical goods the criteria for assessing similarity of marks are much stricter. Makro Cash and Carry also said the Polish Patent Office assessed only the differences but it should have assessed similarities.

Makroterm in turn underscored that the universal recognition of the MAKRO sign had not been adequately demonstrated and that the mark had been recognized by a half of the relevant public. It also questioned the research commissioned in 2006 by the MAKRO company.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court (VAC) in Warsaw, in a judgment of 22 March 2007, case file VI SA/Wa 1325/06, rejected the appeal. The Court held that the PPO had already compared the marks with regard to all three planes and decided that the marks bore fundamental differences. It decided that the “makro” word was a common one and had little distinctive value. Apart from that it found the “term” word much more distinctive, which together with colourful design of the MAKROTERM mark made both marks different.

MAKRO filed a cassation appeal to the Supreme Administrative Court (SAC). The Supreme Court in the judgment of 15 January 2008, case file II GSK 298/07 fully agreed with the earlier judgement of the Voivodeship Court and the decision of the Polish Patent Office. It also decided there was no similarity between the marks that would lead to a confusion neither on the phonetic, nor conceptual, nor figurative plane. The mark also had not infringed the appellant’s right to the name of his company.