Trade mark law, case II GSK 361/06

December 12th, 2008, Tomasz Rychlicki

On 9 July 1998, the Polish company called “Przedsiebiorstwo Uslug Technicznych INTEL Spólka z o. o.” (PUTI) applied for trade mark reigstration for word-figurative sign “i INTEL” in class 37 for services such as: electric appliance installation and repair, fire alarm installation and repair, burglar alarm installation and repair, installation and repair of extinguishing and smoke ventilation systems, installation and repair of access control systems, and in class 38 for industrial television. The Polish Patent Office has granted the protection rights in its decision of 9 December 2002. On 21 July 2003, Intel Corporation has filed an opposition against the PPO’s decision. Since the trade mark application was filed while the old Polish Trade Mark Act – TMA – (in Polish: Ustawa o znakach towarowych) of 31 January 1985, Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No 5, item 15, with subsequent amendments, was in force, so the opposition had to be based on its article 8(1) and (2) and article 9(1)(i) and (ii).

Article 8
A trademark shall not be registrable if:
(i) it is contrary to law or to the principles of society coexistence;
(ii) it infringes the personal or economic rights of third parties;

Article 9
(1) Registration of a trademark for goods of the same kind shall not be permissible where:
(i) it resembles a mark registered on behalf of another enterprise to such an extent that it could mislead purchasers as to the origin of the goods in ordinary economic activity;
(ii) it is similar to a trademark that is well known in Poland as a trademark for goods of another enterprise to an extent that it could mislead purchasers as to the origin of the goods in ordinary economic activity;

To support its opposition, Intel Corp. has provided arguments that a sign is applied for or registered in contrary to the principles of society coexistence if it seeks to use or to undermine the reputation of other trade mark, regardless of the nature of the goods or services to which it refers. Intel Corp. successfully argued that Intel is word trade mark which is well-known and reputable. It is widely recognized and valued as a synonym for the highest quality products branded by this sign (or its derivatives) in the IT sector. The widespread knowledge of that trade was also confirmed in the Polish Patent Office’s decision in early 1994. The features and the highest quality of Intel brand products have also to be attributed to the Intel Inside trade mark because of its equally vast, global popularity and strong positive associations among customers. Intel R-93693 and Intel Inside R-86431 trade marks were registered in Poland in priority, respectively of 8 November 1990 and 18 June 1991.

“i Intel” is a sign which has a distinctive part consisting of Intel sign which is similar to Intel Copr. trade marks. It leads consumers to think that there is an association between Intel Corporation and a disputed sign, consequently, there is a risk of confusion as to the origin of goods or services which are identified by the disputed mark. According to Intel Corp., the use of the contested trade mark by PUTI was based on the reputation and the widely recognized quality of Intel trade mark. PUTI registration was made in favour of its marketing business and for the economic benefits of the Polish company. This kind of behavior also brings the risk of confusion among consumers as to the identity, trade and economic links and between Intel Corporation and PUTI. In addition, Intel Corporation has filed the explanatory memorandum arguing that “i Intel” sign violates the applicant’s personal rights. The firm (protected as personal rights under the Polish Civil Code) is the name under which Intel Corporation conducts its business, it is also the reputation of a company, to which the applicant has worked since 1968 (the establishment of Intel Corporation in the U.S.).

Since fields of business activities of PUTI and Intel Corp. did not overlap, The Polish firm argued that Intel Corp. had not demonstrated that the disputed trade mark makes difficult for Intel to use its company name. PUTI has also argued that the opposition should not be based on article 9 of the PTA since the disputed trade mark is designated for services not goods. PUTI argued that it has been using the name “Przedsiebiorstwo Uslug Technicznych INTEL” in 1989 and 1990, which was before Intel Corporation had registered its trade marks in Poland.

The Polish Patent Office invalidated “i Intel” trade mark in its decision of 19 October 2005. It was proved before the PPO that PUTI was founded on 23 July 1997 as a limited liability company, and previously (from 1 November 1983) it had operated on the market in the form of a civil company and the name Intel had been used for the first time in its firm in 1994. In PPO’s opinion, PUTI’s use of “i Intel” sign with ® before trade mark registration was granted was also a proof of taking the advantage of reputation of Intel Corp. trade marks, which was contrary to the principles of society coexistence that were defined in this case as a matter of fairness trade.

PUTI appealed. The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 21 April 2006 case file VI SA/Wa 126/06 dismissed the appeal. The court held that trade marks of Intel Corp. that were registered with the earlier priority are renowned in Poland in relation to the persons involved in electronics, computers, electrical and electronic equipment of various kinds, and PUTI’s application for the contested trade mark was intended to use the reputation of Intel Corp. trade mark portfolio. In court’s opinion the Polish Patent Office has had to compare these trade marks with the disputed sign in aural verbal and visual aspects and it has reasonably concluded that there is a clear likeness between them, and given that the signs are used for determining goods, which are compatible with regard to services to which the disputed trade mark is intended use, so there was a condition for the inadmissibility of the disputed trade mark registration within the meaning of article 9.

PUTI filed a cassation complaint before the Supreme Administrative Court. However, the Court dismissed the case in its judgment of 15 May 2007 case file II GSK 361/06. SAC explicitly held that Intel is well-known trade mark on the Polish market (strong sign) and its reputation was not questioned even by the Polish company. Consequently, it should be considered that the danger of confusion between trade marks by customers, is the greater, the more well-known (or as the Court also said – standardized) is a trade mark with an earlier priority, because customers’ memory directs them in a particulary easy way, to trade marks which are well-known on the market.