Trade mark law, case II GSK 553/10

August 19th, 2011, Tomasz Rychlicki

Przedsiębiorstwo Przemysłu Spirytusowego POLMOS w Warszawie applied for the right of protection for the word trade mark „spirytus rektyfikowany” (in English: rectified spirit) Z-204843. The Polish Patent Office refused to grant the right of protection. The PPOo ruled that this designation is purely descriptive. It informs about the type of product and how it is produced, and while examined as a whole, this sign does not have any sufficient distinctive character in relation to goods for which it was filed. Therefore, it will not allow for the identification of the goods available on the market in terms of their origin. The PPO decided also that this sign is devoid of any characteristic features that may engrave into memory of the recipient and lead to the association with the entrepreneur, from which they originate. The recipient buying the goods bearing the sign in question will be informed about the characteristics of the product, not its origin. POLMOS claimed that „spirytus rektyfikowany” has acquired secondary meaning.

The PPO did not agree with the argument that a number of word-figurative trade marks containing the term “rectified spirit” that were registered for POLMOS supports the position that this trade mark has acquired secondary meaning, because all these trade marks were registered by the PPO because of its graphics and not the distinctive character of the disputed sign. The PPO concluded that the information on the secondary meaning posted on Wikipedia website can not be considered fully reliable evidence and Wikipedia cannot be treated as the professional source of information. The PPO noted that the fact that POLMOS was able to register the word mark “rectified spirit” in the United States has no impact on the examination of trademark application Z-204843, because the Polish system is completely autonomous. The PPO noted that even POLMOS is advertising its main product as a word-figurative trade mark, where both words are placed on the green-yellow label.

POLMOS filed a complaint against this decision but it was dismissed by the Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgment of 14 December 2009 case file VI SA/Wa 1859/09. POLMOS filed a cassation complaint.

The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 18 May 2011 case file II GSK 553/10 dismissed the complaint. The Court cited the Dictionary of Polish language, published by PWN SA, the Internet edition, in which the word spirit is defined as a generic name of a specific type of alcoholic product – a high percentage water solution of ethyl alcohol. The word “rectified” is as an adjective derived from the noun “rectification” and it means the separation of liquid mixtures by repeated evaporation and condensation. The concept of rectification is commonly associated with a technological process, even if the recipient does not know the specific method. In conjunction with the first of the words in the trade mark in question it is associated with a way to produce a particular product. The two words – “rectified spirit” – contain only information about the type of product and how to produce it, and as such do not have sufficient distinctive character. The SAC shared in this regard the view expressed by the Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 18 June 2008 case file II GSK 185/08. See also “Trade mark law, case II GSK 185/08“. The Court ruled that there was no reason to assign a long use and the reputation only to the “rectified spirit” designation as separated from other elements of a word-figurative trade mark that was corresponding to the label on the bottle. The SAC noted that a trade mark is an indivisible whole. The use of a word-figurative trade mark does not mean that association between the word element and a particular entrepreneur arise in the minds of the consumer.