Trade mark law, case VI SA/Wa 562/11

November 4th, 2011, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Polish Patent Office refused to grant the right of protection for the word trade mark flex fuga Z-297616 applied for by MAPEI POLSKA Sp. z o.o. for goods in Class 1 such as adhesives based on plastics and resins, silicone mortars, for goods in Class 6 such as decorative moldings, profiles, metal profiles, and for goods in Class 19 such as decorative moldings, profiles, profiles not made of metal, masonry mortars, dry plaster, mortars for grouting and welding.

The PPO decided that this trade mark is devoid of sufficient distinctive character and it lacks any additional elements, such as verbal or graphic, which would allow potential purchasers to identify the goods with the source of the origin of goods. The PPO noted that a fuga is a weld/joint between adjacent wall elements and flex means flexible in English.

MAPEI filed a complaint against this decision but it was dismissed by the Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 26 August 2009 case file VI SA/WA 1017/09. MAPEI decided to file a cassation complaint. The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 13 January 2011 case file II GSK 19/10 overturned the judgment of the VAC and held that the VAC relied on the erroneous assumption that the buyers (users) of goods bearing the trademark at issue are those who know English or use the Internet every day, which was not supported by any evidence. Besides, the trade mark flex fuga was applied for not only various types of mortars but also for various types of decorative moldings, profiles, sections of metal and non-metallic, and in relation to those goods it is difficult, to talk about “cut or bent” joint or weld.

The case went back to the Voivodeship Administrative Court. The VAC in its judgment of 9 May 2011 case file VI SA/Wa 562/11 held that the fact that the Polish Patent Office has granted the rights of protection for a number of trade marks containing the word “flex” or the word “flex” in combination with other words, should prompt the PPO to a broader examination of the merits of the MAPEI’s trade mark application. Thus, the PPO’s view that even if MAPEI relied on other decisions issued by the Polish Patent Office, it could not affect the assessment of the submitted application and its final examination, is not justified. The VAC noted that the PPO could change its position on the regularity of the grant of rights of protection, in which one element was the word “flex”, but it should justify such change in detail. The case law of the PPO may therefore be subject to change, if the authority demonstrates that there are reasonable grounds. However, any unfounded inconstancy of the opinion of the public body constitutes an infringement of the administrative procedure, because it may result in undermining citizens’ trust in state bodies and adversely affect the legal culture of citizens, and thereby cause a breach of the constitutional rule that all persons shall be equal before the law and all persons shall have the right to equal treatment by public authorities.