Trade mark law, case II GSK 1156/11

September 25th, 2012, Tomasz Rychlicki

The European Commission filed a notice of opposition to the decision of the Polish Patent Office on the grant of the right of protection for the word-figurative trade mark euro SKLEP R-180808 that was applied for by the Polish company Euro Sklep S.A. from Bielsko Biała. The EC said that the trade mark contains an imitation of the European Union flag because it has five distinctive yellow stars (mullets) arranged in an arc (part of a circle) on a blue background – which obviously violates the official symbol of the European Union. Euro Sklep argued that the opposition is unfounded, because the argument that the trade mark is an imitation symbol is an obvious abuse of the law by the EC, since the examination of signs is to be assessed as a whole, and not by attributing the illusory similarities. The Polish Patent Office invalidated the right of protection. According to the PPO, the average consumer who sees the mark with prominent yellow sign EURO accompanied by five-pointed stars in a semi-circle, will associate it with the flag of the European Union. The PPO pointed out that the use of the EURO caption, as well as graphic elements in the form of a bird or incomplete number of stars, does not rule out the conceptual similarity, since use of the word euro as the dominant element of the mark may exacerbate the association of the recipient that he has to deal with an institution agenda of the European Union. Euro Sklep filed a complaint against this decision and noted that in this case the PPO was not dealing with registration of the flag of the European Communities/European Union as a trade mark, but at most, it would be its imitation from a heraldic point of view. However, the PPO did not properly explain this issue. The Company noted that the imitation prohibited under Article 6ter of the Paris Convention is narrower in scope than an imitation, which normally is considered to be unacceptable between the trade marks. According to Euro Sklep, this view is particularly justified because very often the National flags and emblems contain items commonly used, in particular those relating to flora and fauna, such as lions, bears, flowers, etc., which must remain in public domain for free use.

R-180808

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgment of 7 September 2011 case file VI SA/Wa 1036/10 dismissed the complaint and ruled that the fact of using only half of the symbol did not matter from a heraldic point of view, because the PPO was still dealing with the emblem (flag) of the European Union. Euro Sklep S.A. filed a cassation complaint. The Company argued that the presence of the words on the flag is the negation of the principles of heraldry, and itself refutes allegation of heraldic imitation. Euro Sklep pointed out to couple of CTMs registered by the OHIM that share the same symbols of of yellow stars on blue background.

The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 18 September 2012 case file II GSK 1156/11 dismissed the cassation and ruled that the provisions of Paris Convention and Polish Industrial Property Law were introduced to protect National emblems and symbols against dilution.