Trade mark law, case VI SA/Wa 1917/08

August 18th, 2009, Tomasz Rychlicki

On 23 September 2005, the Polish Patent Office granted the right of protection for the word trade mark COROTAPE R-168086 for goods such as tape, foil and anti-corrosion membranes in class 2 and goods in class 16. The right was granted to the Polish company CB Spółka z o.o. from Opole. Coroplast Fritz Müller GmbH & Co.K.G. from Wuppertal, Germany, filed a notice of opposition based on article 246 of 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 of 13 June 2003, Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 119, item 1117, with later amendments.

1. Within six months from the publication in “Wiadomości Urzędu Patentowego” of the mention of the grant of a title of protection, any person may give reasoned notice of opposition to a final decision of the Patent Office on the grant of a patent, a right of protection or a right in registration.

2. The opposition referred to in paragraph (1) may be filed on the same grounds, on which a patent, a right of protection or a right in registration may be invalidated.

Coroplast Fritz Müller argued that COROTAPE was similar to its COROPLAST mark R-91907, registered for goods in classes 2, 9, 16 and 17 and that they were confusingly similar because they shared the same prefix “coro”. There was therefore a risk that the average recipient of the goods bearing compared trade marks, may think that the conflicting signs, as having a common, “coro” prefix, derived from the same manufacturer or from companies affiliated (legally or organizationally). In addition, Coroplast Fritz Müller argued that the trade mark application was made in bad faith, because its products were present in Poland for many years and had established a reputation of which CB Spółka z o.o. must have been aware.

CB Spółka z o.o. argued that it continued the development of the COROTOP brand and that the disputed trade mark was not similar to the trade mark and company name of Coroplast Fritz Müller in their phonetic aspect because, in spite of the identical prefix, they had a completely different ending, indicating the nature of the product. In addition, the Polish Patent Office had registered a number trade mark starting with the prefix “coro” or “koro” for goods in classes 2 and 17. What’s more, there was no risk of misleading, because the goods were placed on the market in conjunction with the information for the customer and for a limited group of specialized recipients.

Coroplast Fritz Müller further stated that the Polish company acted in bad faith because it had used COROPLAST on its website which was removed as a result of the cease and desist letter, and since the seat of CB Spółka z o.o. was located where two Polish subsidiaries of German companies also operated.

While assessing the similarity of the two characters, the PPO found that they consisted of three syllables, with the same fanciful prefix, which is a distinctive element and acts as a tip about the commodity. As a result, the PPO found that the disputed trade mark was similar to the earlier registered sign in its visual and aural aspects but was not similar in the conceptual context. The PPO indicated that the visual similarity was based on the same syllables, the same letters in the same or similar quantities. The PPO also stressed that the disputed mark was of three syllables, using the same “coro” prefix, which was fanciful, and was definitely a distinctive element. The “tape” ending was far less important, fulfilling an information role about the function of the goods. The use of the “coro ” prefix maked the signs phonetically similar.

Referring to the case law, the PPO emphasized that assessment of a trade mark is made as a whole and the risk of misleading the consumer must be assessed globally, taking into the account all relevant factors. In the PPO’s assessment, despite the assumption that the average consumer is a person duly informed, careful and cautious, there is a risk of confusion. The buyers, while recognizing the difference between COROPLAST and COROTAPE, would wrongly assume – because of the prefix which is identical – that they purchased the goods originating from one manufacturer or from the entities that are economically and organisationally linked.

The PPO did not agree with an argument that it had registered a number of trade marks for goods in in class 2 and 17 with “coro” and “Koro” prefixes. It pointed out that none of these trade marks was intended to designate the goods that were concerned in this dispute, adhesive tapes for industrial use.

In addition the PPO found that the applicant made a bad faith application for COROTAPE. It was evidenced by the use of “coroplast” in the offer and on its website. The PPO found that it was not accidental that the use of the prefix “coro” in the COROTAPE and COROTOP trade marks, which are leading brands of CB Spółka z o.o. The PPO also stressed the significant fact that there were two factories belonging to Coroplast Fritz Müller GmbH, located in small towns around Opole (where CB Spółka z o.o. has its business seat), which have operated since 1994 and 1998. According to the PPO, it was not possible that CB Spółka z o.o. was not aware of the existence of these factories and unwittingly created a trade mark with a “coro” prefix.

The Polish Patent Office invalidated the right of protection for COROTAPE R-168086 trade mark. CB Spółka z o.o. filed a complaint to the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw. Although the VAC in a judgment of 19 February 2009, case file VI SA/Wa 1917/08 ruled that an application for the rights for protection of a trade mark in bad faith occurs when, despite the knowledge or ignorance, which is a corollary of a lack of diligence, regarding the existence of someone else’s rights or interest worth of protection, which may be threatened by such application, and with the intent to harm someone’s else interests. The intention, assessed from the point of view of fairness and honesty, is of great importance for the assessment of applicant’s bad faith.

Such is the case when the trade mark application is done in order to eliminate a competitor with the intent to capture his clientele. Acting in bad faith is one who knows or with due diligence should know about the use of a trade mark by another highly successful entrepreneur and – anticipating his application for the right of protection for a trade mark – he applies for the registration of such trade mark. Acting in bad faith is a person who applies for a trade mark rights for a sign belonging to a foreign entrepreneur to prevent him in obtaining protection in the Republic of Poland or in order to obtain profits from the sale of such acquired rights.

But the Court also held that the Polish Patent Office did not properly justify its decision on the bad faith application. The VAC found that the issueance of the contested decision was made in breach of the procedural law, and it annulled it, ruling that the decision was not a subject to execution. The judgment is final.