Trade mark law, case VI SA/Wa 112/11

July 7th, 2011, Tomasz Rychlicki

Sfinks Polska S.A. from Łódź requested the Polish Patent Office to invalidate the rights of protection for word-figurative trade mark R-179260 owned by Restauracja CLEOPATRA Bachar Aziz from Lublin. Sfinks Polska is the owner of the earlier registered word-figurative trade mark SPHINX R-105162.


Sfinks claimed that the trade mark CLEOPATRA R-179260 is similar to its trade mark and argued that it has legal interest in this proceedings as there is a possibility of misleading customers based on the similarity of trade marks. This may be particularly applicable considering the fact that SPHINX trade mark is already known on the market and, therefore, it has a stronger distinctive ability. Sfinks also argued that Bachar Aziz filed its trade mark in bad faith with an intent to use the reputation of Sfinks’ trade marks by suggesting a common origin from a single entity.


Bachar Aziz requested the PPO to dismiss the case. He argued the Sfinks lacks legal interest in the invalidation proceedings. Moreover, he noted that the signs, in this case, are different conceptually and phonetically. The characters are not visually similar, the earlier trade mark has the form of a sphinx (face of a man resembling an ancient sculpture) and the sign in question shows a woman’s face (Cleopatra). Mr Aziz also noted that designation of the same services by these trade marks is not sufficient to determine the risk of common origin. In this regard, he relied on the collision-free existence of the two signs on the markets in Płock and Łódź. He pointed that other businesses use the representation of the Sphinx to designate their restaurants.

The Polish Patent Office in its decision case Sp. 396/08 dismissed the request. The PPO held that the trade marks, in this case, are different in all aspects. While assessing the risk of confusion of the recipients of the services offered by the parties to the proceedings, the PPO ruled that customers of restaurants do not act on impulse as shoppers do. When choosing the restaurant they base their actions on good knowledge of the place, recommendation or advertising, so, first of all, they choose a place based on the name, thus, it is the verbal layer of a trade mark (the name of restaurant), not the graphic element, that will be critical to their selection. Sfinks filed a complaint against this decision.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgment of 16 June 2011 case file VI SA/Wa 112/11 overturned the decision of the Polish Patent Office and held it unenforceable based on entirely different circumstances that one could expect. At the hearing before the Court on 3 June 2011, Sfinks’s trade mark attorney argued that she was not present at the hearing on 16 June 2010 in the Polish Patent Office on the ground that the notice of the hearing was set at 11:00 a.m. and a hearing was held on at 10:00 a.m. Therefore, Sfinks could not be represented properly, as its representative was not able to submit evidence. The Court held that Sfinks did not participate in proceedings through no fault of its own and such situation was a violation of the provisions of the Polish Administrative Proceedings Code. The judgement is not final yet.