Trade mark law, case VI SA/Wa 1345/10

January 7th, 2011, Tomasz Rychlicki

Polska Agencja Fotograficzna Studio 69 filed a notice of opposition to a final decision of the Patent Office on the grant of a right of protection for STUDIO 69 R-182300 trade mark owned by Marcin Maculewicz from Kielce. PAF claimed that the phrase STUDIO 69 was widely known and used by PAF as its trade mark. PAF also argued that according to 15 years of its business practice one can successfully operate on the media market without reserving or registering a brand name, and STUDIO 69 is a common sign that is also used widely by many companies. At the same time PAF did not claim infringement of the company name and explained that different entrepreneurs use such a sign.

The Polish Patent Office ruled that it is the duty of the opposing party to prove that a given sign is well known and is associated with products coming from the opponent. This should be demonstrated at the filing date of an application for the registration of a trade mark. The PPO explained that the well known sign is characterized by two elements. The first one is related to the function of marking the origin of goods/services (the distinctive function). A sign must have this feature in order to be registered as a trade mark. The second element is the requirement that a trade mark has became commonly known as a result of the use. According to the Polish case law and legal doctrine, a well known sign should be recognized in most of the territory, by more than half of potential purchasers of the goods. The basic criteria for assessing the objective possibility to become a well known trade mark include: the period of time of trade mark use, the situation of goods on the market (quantity, availability, method and scope of distribution), advertising campaigns and the strength/distinctive character of a trade mark. The PPO examined the evidence presented and reminded that common knowledge is assessed in terms of knowledge among potential customers. The PPO ruled that PAF has not demonstrated that more than 50% of potential customers on the Polish territory is familiar with STUDIO 69 trade mark and decided to dismiss the opposition. PAF filed a complaint against this decision.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgment of 14 October 2010 case file VI SA/Wa 1345/10 dismissed the case. The Court ruled that the Administrative Court, as a rule, does not carry out hearing of evidence, because the examination of legality of an administrative decision is based on the evidence gathered in the proceeding before an administrative authority (in this case the PPO) issuing the contested decision. According to Polish legal commentators, in principle, there are three sources of trademark protection within the industrial property law: the grant of a right of protection for a trademark (in the form of an administrative decision issued by the PPO), the use of a trade mark and common knowledge of a sign. The Court cited W. Włodarczyk, The distinctive ability of a trade mark, Lublin 2001, p. 28. The VAC held that PAF did not prove that STUDIO 69 was a well known sign. The judgment is not final yet.