Trade mark law, case VI SA/Wa 1524/08

December 26th, 2008, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Polish Patent office invalidated the right of protection for NIZOPOL R-152880 trade mark owned by Zakłady Farmaceutyczne “POLFA-ŁÓDŹ’ Spółka Akcyjna. The request was filed by Johnson and Johnson Company who owns NIZORAL R-57978 trade mark. The PPO held that both signs are similar and share at the beggining the same 4 letters NIZO.

The Voivodeship Administratve Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 26 November 2008 case file VI SA/Wa 1524/08 invalidated the questioned decision and ordered its re-examination. Although the Court shared the view of the PPO that during the examination of the questioned word marks in the aural apect, the more attention should to be paid to the first letters and syllables, and a very small role of the endings of words should be recognized, citing J. Piotrowska, Renomowane znaki towarowe i ich ochrona (in English: Reputed trade marks and their protection), Wydawnictwo C.H. Beck, Warszawa 2001, p. 131, however, according to the VAC, the PPO did not consider at all the issues related to the degree of public attention. According to the VAC, even the ordinary and final recipient (and not only the professional) when during the purchase of products such as pharmaceuticals or cosmetic can be extremely careful in selecting the correct product because the product purchased is not the regular goods, but one that will (or may) have some consequences for his health. The recipient will also be a more likely with a similar purchase to seek and take into consideration the advice of an expert. A prudent consumer should pay particular attention to the name (and thus the mark) when purchased.

The PPO did not also made in this case, any assessment of other important factors affecting the risk of confusion, namely, did not address the issues related to the alleged occurrence in the course of trade any other similar signs/designations containing the prefix “nizo”. The PPO have to respond to arguments and the circumstances showed by the Polish company, since it is argued the legal doctrine, that the use of the same or similar trade mark by third parties could lead to a weakening of the impact of such sign, and thus – to reduce the risk of confusion, citing R. Skubisz, Prawo znaków towarowych. Komentarz (in English: Trade mark law. Commentary), Warszawa 1997, p. 91.

In this situation – according to the Court – it must be assumed that the PPO during the re-examination of the case should first consider the question of the similarity of the goods. The VAC noted that according to settled case-law, the assessment of the similarity between the goods or services should take into account all relevant factors relating to those goods or services. Those factors include, in particular, their nature, their intended purpose, their method of use and whether they are in competition with each other or are complementary, citing T‑420/03, El Corte Inglés, SA v. OHIM.

In the opinion of the Court when re-considering the issue again with regard to the risk of misleading consumers, the Patent Office will be obliged to consider how the risk of confusion is likely to affect the power of the effectiveness (common knowledge) of the opposed earlier mark, in the light of the model of the average consumer that was established in the Community case-law. In this situation the PPO should also consider the issue of the possible risk of confusion, taking into account the intened use of both signs.