Trade mark law, case I CSK 96/08

March 20th, 2009, Tomasz Rychlicki

Lindt & Sprüngli requested the Polish court to prohibit Terravita from offering, marketing or storage chocolate products with a characteristic shape of a seated hare, wrapped in metail foil with clearly marked drawings of nose, bandoline, eyes, ears and tail with bow placed on the neck. Lindt also asked the court to stop the defendant using or affixing “Terravita hare” or its image in advertising and commercial documents, and an order that the defendant withdraw the “Terravita hare” from the market, requiring the defendant to destroy all packagings, packaging designs and dies, molds and other devices intended to produce and direct wrapping the “Terravita hare”.

Lindt's hare

The District Court in Warsaw, the Court for the Community Trade Marks and Community Designs (in Polish: Sąd Okręgowy w Warszawie Wydział XXII Sąd Wspólnotowych Znaków Towarowych i Wzorów Przemysłowych) in its judgment of 22 September 2005 dismissed the action. The court held that the conditions set out in article 9(1)(b) of the CTMR were not met. In the court’s opinion “Goldhase”, “Lindt” and “Terravita” signs that appear on the respective products differentiated them significantly and hence there is no risk of consumer’s confusion. The average consumer of chocolate hares does not perceive the origin of the goods only on the basis of the shape of a hare, but also on the basis of other important and distinguishing elements, including the mark placed on the product, the color of the packaging, its price, the trade mark identifying the manufacturer. The average consumer sees the difference in colour of the packaging of chocolate hares, and these were different in this case. Lindt’s packaging of the hare has the color of gold, red and brown, and Terravita’s are in silver. In addition, the District Court indicated that according to article 159a(5) of the CTMR, the defendant has only the right to prohibit the use of a trade mark on the territory of the Republic of Poland.

Terravita's hare

Lindt brought an appeal. The Appellate Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 6 July 2006 case file I ACa 616/07 dismissed the case. The Court held that the shape and the colour did not inform about the origin of the goods. The form of a sitting hare, Easter eggs or bells do not have a distinctive characteristic. The court similarly assessed the coloring of the aluminum foil placed on chocolate hares. The colour of silver and gold are typical for chocolate products. In this case, the only distinctive elements of both products were sings “Goldhase Lindt” and “Terravita” and they were dissimilar. Accordingly there was no risk of consumers confusion as regards the orgin of goods.

Lind brought a cassation complaint to the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland. The Court, in its judgment of 13 April 2007, case file I CSK 16/07, ordered the Appellate Court to reconsider the case. The Supreme Court has interpreted the EU law, pointing to the need for a comprehensive assessment of similarity of the disputed signs. Only such an assessment would determine whether there is a risk of confusion.

The Court of Appeal, after rehearing the case, changed its judgment in favour of Lindt. The court found that the Golden hare was introduced by Lindt on the Polish market in 1997 (16 pieces), and 240 pieces in 1998. On March 1999, Terravita purchased in Germany the same form as the form used by Lindt and began producing and marketing of chocolate hares. Therefore the disputed hares share the same shape and size. Both are packaged in foil – gold, or silver, both have a ribbon tied to the neck in bow but Terravita’s is printed on the foil and there is no bell. The Court of Appeal stated that the condition for the likelihood of confusion has been met. The court stressed that Lindt’s Gold hare is well known among consumers of chocolate products. Therefore, there was no doubt to believe that Lindt’s hare has a huge recognition among consumers of chocolate products, especially if its presence on the market was established for more than nine years. With regard to the Terravita silver hare the Court of Appeal held that, although the latter figure was produced using the same form as used by the Lindt, and thus both hares are having the same shape and size but additional drawings and elements preclude similarities.

This time, Terravita brought a cassation complaint. The Supreme Court in its judgment of 3 October 2008, case file I CSK 96/08 held that in the circumstances of this case, there is no doubt that disputed hares are not identical and only its shape is the same, since they are manufactured from the same form. However on the foil of both hares, in a prominent place, one may find adequately put signs “Lindt Goldhase” or “Terravita”, which in fact makes the likelihood of consumer confusion practically excluded. The Court cited its earlier case law. The Supreme Court in its judgment of 1 February 2001, case file I CKN 1128/98, published at OSNC 2001, No. 9, item. 136, held that if word-figurative trade marks are used on the market then the word elements of such signs should have been attributed the distinvtice characteristics. The SC in its judgment 8 April 2003, case file IV CKN 22/01, published at OSP 2004, No. 5, item 61, held that in case of word-figurative trade marks the word element has the distinctive characteristics because it determines the ease of assimilation and the perception by the public. The Supreme Court in its judgment of 14 November 2003, case file I CK 176/02 (unpublished) excluded the risk of confusion in a situation where bottles used by the plaintiff and the defendant had the same shape (as in the facts of this case these bottles came from the same form), but were labeled with various word and images elements. In conclusion, the Court held that in the case of two identical products, one of which concerns the Community trade mark, the likelihood of confusion within the meaning of article 9(1)(b) of CTMR does not exist, if the other characteristics of goods, in particular bearing the word or image, allow them to be clearly distinguished.