Trade mark law, case VI SA/Wa 2032/11

January 7th, 2013, Tomasz Rychlicki

On 17 August 2009, EMPIK CAFE sp. z o.o. applied to the Polish Patent Office for the right of protection for the word trade mark Lody prawdziwie domowe Z-359478 for goods and services in Classes 29, 30, 35 and 43. “Lody prawdziwie domowe” means real homemade ice cream. The PPO decided that the sign lacks distinctiveness because in terms of semantic, the combination of three words does not create the concept that would be distant from content directly read from the statement, and refused to grant the right of protection. This nominal phrase is a carrier of advertising message, referring to the characteristics of the goods and has no features that would suggest that it is more than a slogan, that is a trade mark. Monopolization of such a non-distinctive designation by one entrepreneur, which is the carrier of information and used in advertising, would violate the principle of freedom of economic activity and fair competition. EMPIK CAFE filed a complaint against this decision.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 23 April 2012 case file VI SA/Wa 2032/11 dismissed it. The Court held that the essential function of a trade mark, which follows from its very definition, is to distinguish the goods of one undertaking from those of other undertakings, and ruled that the advertising nature of a trade mark does not eliminate its recognition as a distinctive or nondistinctive sign. The Court repeated that rights of protection should not be granted for signs which are devoid of sufficient distinctive character, especially, 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. Descriptive signs may be one of the components of a trade mark, such as a specific binding word or symbol indicating a characteristic of the goods. Both, the legal commentators and the case law of administrative courts say the descriptive trade mark is a sign that has the characteristics of actual, specific and direct descriptiveness. The actuality of signs is examined objectively and leads to determining whether from the point of view of current market conditions such indication is useful for the description of the goods, and as such, it should be available for all participants. The rule of specific descriptiveness indicates that a sign is excluded from the registration as a descriptive only if it points to the specific characteristics of the goods, for which the trade mark is intended. The direct description occurs when a descriptive mark provides information about the characteristics of the particular goods directly, clearly and unambiguously, so that it may be well to read directly, and not by the way of connotations. Then a trade mark is assessed as a whole, and not only through the prism of one element – a descriptive word, but other accompanying elements. After all, not every slogan has to be registered. Of course, there is no normative definition of distinctiveness. Distinctiveness of a slogan serving as a trade mark must be sufficient. This means that in the minds of consumers the sign will be able to identify the origin of the product or service with an entrepreneur. It is therefore only possible if such belief collapse in the minds of consumers that the goods or services are produced under the control of a given company, and with its consent. This is the only way such a slogan as a trade mark will be recognizable, yet can serve as a valuable business asset.