Trade mark law, case II GSK 244/13

May 22nd, 2014, Tomasz Rychlicki

On March 2008, the Polish Patent Office has granted to the Politechnika Wrocławska (Wrocław University of Technology) the right of protection for the word-figurative trade mark e e-Informatica R-204692, for goods and services in Classes 9, 16, 18, 25, 35, 41 and 42.


Mr Piotr Chlebowski filed the opposition against the decision of the PPO, and argued that he works on the market (in business) under the business pseudonym Informatica, and has been using that term as a company name that was entered in the register of business activity in 2003. He also uses that name within “a website for his Internet domain”. The term Informatica is also used by Mr Chlebowski on business cards, in advertising, invoices and stamps. He argued that the questioned trade mark also violates his personal rights, because he has started the company under the name Informatica. In addition, he also enjoys the copyright to the term “Informatica”, and the use of that name by the Politechnika Wrocławska is also contrary to regulations provided in the Polish Act on Combating Unfair Competition.

Politechnika Wrocławska requested the PPO to dismiss the opposition and argued that the term Informatica cannot be deemed as personal or economic right or interest. There is no unfair competition because the name Informatica does not lead to consumers’ confusion as to the producer of goods or services.

The Polish Patent Office dismissed the opposition. The PPO ruled the Mr Chlebowski is entitled to his full company name, not only to the term Informatica, and the provisions of the Polish Civil Code raised by the opponent relate to the violation of personal interests, and therefore not personal rights. However, the the mere fact that someone applied for a trade mark consisting of a part of the name of another company is not yet an obstacle to the registration. It is required that the registration and use of the trade mark constitutes a violation of the right to the company name. The average consumer will considers the designation as descriptive for the goods and services related to information technology. However, the figurative element – the first letter “e” – plays the dominant role in the perception of the whole trade mark. The registration of a domain name does not create exclusive property rights that are effective against all (erga omnes – absolute rights). The right to use an Internet domain name is the “relative right” based on the contractual obligation that is effective only with respect to the domain registrar. Mr Chlebowski filed a complaint against this decision.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgment of 17 September 2012 case file VI SA/Wa 917/12 dismissed it, and Mr Chlebowski decided to file a cassation complaint.

The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgment of 3 April 2014 case file II GSK 244/13 repealed the contested judgment and returned it to the VAC for further reconsideration. The SAC held that a name of enterprise (business or company) belongs to the category of personal and property rights, which are subject to legal protection, and that these rights may be infringed by the use of the trade mark, because the two signs (the company’s name and a trademark) both identify the company. The SAC noted that the VAC relied on provision of the Polish Commercial Code that for many years were no longer in force, and incorrectly stated that Mr Chlebowski, as a natural person conducting his business activities, is not entitled to the company name. While the the Polish legislature has regulated in the Civil Code in Section III titled “Entrepreneurs and their designation” the right to the company name, which is also entitled to an entrepreneur who is a natural person. Thus, in this case occurred primarily a conflict of a right to the company name and the right of protection for a trade mark. The Supreme Administrative Court stated in its previous case-law, that the name of a company (the firm) is used to identify and differentiate entities in legal and economic transactions. It also serves a carrier of certain information about the characteristics and qualities of their activities. Unauthorized interference with the functions of the company name infringes the right to the name. This infringement is not prejudiced by registration of a trade mark that is identical or similar to the name of another company. Exclusive rights to the company name (firm) are not absolute. Their limits are territorial and objective and are based on actual activity of an entity that uses a given name. Only within these limits a collisions between identical or similar company name and trademark may occur. If different fields of business activities of a person (legal or natural) that is entitled to the company name and the proprietor of a trade mark, do not lead to consumers’ confusion with regard to the identity of companies, or such proprietor of the later trade mark is not using the reputation associated with earlier (identical or similar) company name, it is difficult to talk about the collision of these two rights, and consequently an infringement of an earlier right to the company name by the later mark (see: “Trade mark law, case II GSK 31/06” and “Trade mark law, case II GSK 406/08“). Applying these considerations to the present case, the SAC ruled that the VAC should reconsider and establish such facts as from which time Mr Chlebowski had acted in the course of trade under the company, using in addition to his surname a designation Informatica, what was the scope and of that activity and whether there is a risk of consumers’ confusion as to the identity of his company and the owner of a disputed trade mark. As it was already established in the case-law of Polish administrative courts, while finding an infringement of personal or property rights of third parties by a trade mark registration, it does not matter whether there are specific facts of confusion in trade, i.e. consumers’ confusion as to the identity of the company and the sign. It is enough to determine the potential possibility (likelihood) of such confusion, that in case of companies carrying identical or convergent activities, seems inevitable (see the judgment of the Supreme Administrative Court of 30 March 2006 case file II GSK 3/06, published in electronic database LEX, under the no. 197239). While considering this case, the VAC should also pay attention to the unified position of both the Supreme Court and the Supreme Administrative Court expressed in the case law that in case of a collision between a company name and an applied and/or registered trade mark, the priority is given to the earlier right.