Trade mark law, case IV CSK 61/09

June 16th, 2009, Tomasz Rychlicki

Combination of colors can be a protected trademark in Poland. Such a conclusion stems from the Supreme Court’s (SC) judgment of June 3, 2009, case file IV CSK 61/09. Pursuant to the SC, a combination of colors can be protected as a trademark, and shall not be deemed an attempt to monopolize the colors themselves. The issue arose in connection with the British Petroleum suit against Marian S., a Polish entrepreneur, who used the characteristic green and yellow colors to attract the prospective clientele to his gas stations. The efforts of the legitimate holder of the BP trademark, to convince the infringer to substitute the yellow component of his stations’ logo with another color proved unfruitful, and the case ended up in court. British Petroleum based its claims primarily on the Polish Act of 30 June 2000 on Industrial Property Law – IPL – (in Polish: ustawa Prawo własności przemysłowej) of 30 June 2000, published in Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) of 2001 No 49, item 508, consolidated text on 13 June 2003, Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No 119, item 1117, with subsequent amendments, and the Polish Act of 16 April 1993 on Combating Unfair Competition – CUC – (in Polish: ustawa o zwalczaniu nieuczciwej konkurencji), Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No 47, item 211, with subsequent amendments.

BP owns several Polish trade mark registration for color trade marks. For instance R-115842 and R-115843.
R-115842 R-115843

The Court of first instance found in favor of the claimant, stating that Marian S. had indeed committed not only the acts of unfair competition as described in articles 5 and 10 of the CUC.

Article 5. The designation of the undertaking in a way which may mislead customers in relation to its identity, due to the use of trade mark, name, emblem, letter abbreviation or another characteristic symbol already lawfully used to indicate another undertaking, shall be the act of unfair competition.


Article 10.1. Such indication of products or services or its lack, which may mislead customers in relation to the origin, quantity, quality, components, manufacturing process, usefulness, possible application, repair, maintenance and another significant features of products or services as well as concealing the risks connected with their use, shall be the act of unfair competition.
2. Releasing for free circulation products in the packing which may cause effects referred to in section 1 above shall be the act of unfair competition, unless the use of such packing is justified by technical reasons.

But primarily, the Court ruled that Marian S. had infringed article 296(2)(ii) of the IPL that is, he had unlawfully used – in the course of trade – a trademark similar to a trademark registered in respect of identical goods, and the use of such mark is likely to mislead part of the public, in particular by evoking associations between the marks concerned (here Marian S. gas station logo and the BP gas station trademark). Unfortunately on appeal, the Court of II instance refused to share this view and the case was subsequently dismissed in whole, as the BP’s attempt to monopolize the colors of green and yellow. BP filed a cassation complaint. The SC did not understand why having made the same factual findings as the court of first instance, the court of appeals refused to recognize that the respondent had indeed committed the alleged acts of unfair competition. The SC noted also that the court of appeals should have and yet failed to address the important issue of whether the claimant’s trademark does indeed deserve protection under the IPL. As a result, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the lower court for retrial.

See also “Trade mark law, case IV CSK 231/10“.