Trade mark law, case II GSK 1033/10

February 22nd, 2012, Tomasz Rychlicki

This is another part of the saga of trade marks consisting of numerals. On March 2003, Agencja Wydawnicza TECHNOPOL Spółka z o.o. applied for the word trade mark 100 PANORAMICZNYCH Z-261876 for goods in Class 16 such as newspapers, charade magazines, booklets, brochures, flyers, calendars, posters, exercise books.

The Polish Patent Office decided that it cannot grant rights of protection for signs which cannot constitute a trade mark, or are devoid of sufficient distinctive character. The PPO reminded that the following are considered as being devoid of sufficient distinctive character (i) signs which are not capable of distinguishing, in trade, the goods for which they have been applied, (ii) signs which consist exclusively or mainly of elements which may serve, in trade, to designate the kind, origin, quality, quantity, value, intended purpose, manufacturing process, composition, function or usefulness of the goods, (iii) signs which have become customary in the current language and are used in fair and established business practices. TECHNOPOL filed a complaint against this decision but it was dismissed by the Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgment of 24 April 2010 case file VI SA/Wa 410/10. TECHNOPOL filed a cassation complaint.

The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 8 November 2011 case file II GSK 1033/10 repealed the contested judgment and returned it to the VAC for further reconsideration. The SAC agreed with allegations of violation of administrative proceedings that was based on erroneous findings that the disputed trade mark could not acquire secondary meaning. The Court noted that when the PPO is assessing whether or not a sign has a sufficient distinctive character, any circumstances accompanying its use in marking the goods in trade should be taken into consideration. Grant of a right of protection under previously mentioned rules may not be denied in particular where prior to the date of filing of a trademark application with the PPO, the trademark concerned has acquired, in consequence of its use, a distinctive character in the conditions of the regular trade. This indicates the possibility of acquiring secondary meaning by descriptive signs. In principle, secondary meaning can only be acquired by signs that are devoid of any distinctiveness, including descriptive or generic designations. Thus, the mere fact that the sign is purely informational does not preclude the acquisition of secondary meaning. Descriptive signs refer to the qualities or characteristics that may affect goods from various manufacturers.