Trade mark law, case Sp. 500/11

January 30th, 2012, Tomasz Rychlicki

On July 2008, Barbara Hildman requested the Polish Patent Office to invalidate the right of protection of the word-figurative trade mark BIKINI CHRISTIAN DIOR PARIS R-175224 owned by Parfums Christian Dior from Paris, and registered for goods in Class 03 such as body and face care products. Barbara Hildman argued that BIKINI CHRISTIAN DIOR PARIS R-175224 is similar to the trade mark BIKINI R-124158 registered with an earlier priority.


Parfums Christian Dior admitted that the trade mark at issue was registered for similar range of goods, but the disputed sign has other distinctive elements such as CHRISTIAN DIOR and a colorful label, which proves that there is no risk of consumers’ confusion. Moreover, the Company argued that the contested mark containing the element CHRISTIAN DIOR is produced and marketed by the producer of luxury goods and it is basically identical to the well-known and reputable company name of the holder – Parfums Christian Dior. These products, as exclusive goods, are always sold at exposed places clearly marked with the company name “Christian Dior”, which reduces to zero the possibility of confusion with cosmetic products to other companies.

The Adjudicative Board of the Polish Patent Office dismissed the request. PPO decided that there is no likelihood of confusion, also, because the questioned trade mark is a carrier of the allure, prestigious image and aura of luxury. The combination of the weak trade mark BIKINI with a strong and recognizable sign CHRISTIAN DIOR PARIS, completely eliminates the risk of confusion between the compared trade marks by the oriented and attentive consumer.

Barbara Hildman filed a complaint against this decision. She argued that merging of the word BIKINI with the words “CHRISTIAN DIOR PARIS” and a graphic element, is like appropriation of someone else’s trade mark. The creation of trade marks by adding to them a company name and its seat distorts the nature and function of a trade mark, because each sign could be easily imitated, only adding a company name to such a sign, and in that case the registration of the earlier mark would be quite superfluous and without legal significance.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 13 May 2011 case file VI SA/Wa 41/11 repealed the contested decision and returned it to the PPO for further reconsideration. The Court ruled that the PPO did not properly examine the similarity of goods. There were no comparison on „which shelf” these identical goods are placed and who is their recipient, which in consequence it does not exclude the risk of association of the earlier trade mark with the later one. The Polish Patent Office did not consider that the necessary condition for the likelihood of confusion is at least the minimum similarity between compared trade marks. The lack of examination of this condition would mean that the company Christian Dior, or any other reputable or well-known company – due to its brand recognition, is granted the possibility to “append” to a recognizable name, or names – of any signs that are protected with earlier priority, and presenting it as their own. This would also mean illusory protection for an earlier trade mark in a situation where the reputable sign would build the family of marks, without prejudice to its recognition, just by adding a known company name or surname to any sign. In any of such cases, the appropriation by the prestigious brand of less known earlier trade marks, would show that their position and earlier protection do not apply and such protection has not been given any legal effect, and each of such a character – compared with the prestige trade mark, would have been assessed as having weak distinctive ability.

The Polish Patent Office in its decision of 19 January 2012 case Sp. 500/11 invalidated the right of protection for the trade mark BIKINI CHRISTIAN DIOR PARIS R-175224.