Archive for: parasitic copying

Trade mark law, case I ACa 1268/12

July 4th, 2013, Tomasz Rychlicki

Wytwórcza Spółdzielnia Pracy SPOŁEM (WSP SPOŁEM) from Kielce (the capital city of the Świętokrzyskie Voivodeship) sued ROLESKI Sp. J. for the infringement of word and figurative trade marks R-197616, R-170401, R-123588 and R-193780 and unfair competition torts/delicts. Both Polish companies produce different mayonnaise products that are sold in jars of a similar capacity. WSM Społem is a manufacturer of “Majonez KIELECKI”. In 2008, ROLESKI produced mayonnaise in a package bearing the designation “Świętokrzyski”. The label of this package was modified twice, by removing the word “Świętokrzyski” and by replacing it, during courts’ proceedings, by the word “Regionalny”. WSP SPOŁEM asked the District Court in Kraków to secure the claims and to issue preliminary injunction in order to prohibit ROLESKI, until the final decision is rendered, the sale of mayonnaise in a jar with a label containing a yellow background, a centered white box in the shape of an ellipse with a green border, and a green jar lid, and a round yellow sticker connected with jar’s side, and to seize and retain, until the final decision is issued, of all products held by the defendant in the form of mayonnaise packages with labels containing centered yellow background, a centered white or yellow field in a shape similar to an ellipse, framed or underlined by a green or red line, with a green round jar lids and a yellow label (band) connected to jar’s side, and also containing any of the elements described above.

R-123588

ROLESKI requested the Court to dismiss the suit. The Company argued that it does not counterfeit products of WSP SPOŁEM as it manufactures own products bearing reputable trade mark, which in consequence, eliminates not only identity, but also the similarity of products. ROLESKI noted that if the two parties compete under their own brands, there is no harm to the reputation and distinctive character of their trade marks. According to ROLESKI, WSM Społem mistaken reputation of the registered trade mark with the concept of the reputation of a product. As a result, it does not prove the reputation of the figurative mark R-197616, but generally a particular product “Majonez KIELECKI”. WSM by designating its product with a word “Majonez KIELECKI” indicates only its generic name and determine the place of origin, and therefore such trade mark is devoid of any distinctive character, as opposed to the trade mark used by ROLESKI, that is a distinctive sign.

R-193780

The District Court in Kraków in its judgment of 23 May 2012 case file IX GC 86/10 found that graphics of mayonnaise packages produced and marketed by ROLESKI were modeled on the graphics of mayonnaise package produced and marketed by WSP SPOŁEM. The Court noted that similarities outweighed the differences. The Court made findings of facts on the basis of documents submitted by the parties, as well as the testimony of witnesses and the opinion of an expert witness, except for the part where the expert speaks about the intentions of the designer’s of ROLESKI’s trade marks. The Court asked the expert on the likeness of packages containing the elements of trade marks and the impact of possible similarity on the likelihood of consumer confusion. ROLESKI filed an appeal complaint. The Court also found that ROLESKI used the word “Świętokrzyski”, but the office of the company was located in another voivodeship (Małopolska Voivodeship, in the Tarnów community), which was deemed as an act of unfair competition.

R-197616

The Appeallate Court in Kraków in its judgment of 15 January 2013 case file I ACa 1268/12 dismissed it and ruled that the District Court has made ​​the appropriate findings. The Court noted that the evidence and testimony of expert witness allowed for a clear and comprehensive answer to the question of similarity of the goods, understood as a whole, including packaging, manufactured and marketed by the parties, taking into account changes made by ROLESKI in the appearance of mayonnaise packaging produced by the Company from Tarnów. The Court confirmed that by the use of the word “Świętokrzyski” together other elements similar to those attributed to WSM Społem, ROLESKI has exploited a set of associations created by WSM Społem for the product, which is mayonnaise with a specific package. The use of the additional word “Świętokrzyski” perpetuated these associations and allowed the Court to treat ROLESKI’s action as an act of unfair competition. ROLESKI appealed directly to the reputation of the product of WSM Społem by invoking the name of the capital of Świętokrzyskie region. The Court acknowledged similarity of the vast of words and figurative elements of packaging. All the elements visible on the packaging of both parties, although they include other wordings by the use of the same color and compositional arrangement lead to customer confusion as to the origin of the goods, and it also constitutes an act of unfair competition.

Trade mark law, case VI SA/Wa 203/10

October 11th, 2010, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Polish company INTERKOBO Sp. z o.o. filed a request for the invalidation of the right of protection for the trade mark kucyk pony R-139097 that was registered for HASBRO POLAND Sp. z o.o. Kucyk means “pony” in Polish language. INTERKOBO argued that it has the legitimate interest in the invalidation proceedings because it is a manufacturer of toys, and it offers products such as toy ponies. In addition, in the cease and desist letter dated on 24 April 2007, HASBRO called INTERKOBO to stop the infringement of the right of protection for trade mark “kucyk pony” R-139097 which consisted of using by the INTERKOBO of “Princes’ s Pony” sign for designation of ponies’ toys. INTERKOBO argued also that HASBRO restricts the freedom of economic activity of its competitors, asking them to stop marketing of toys in the form of a small pony and requesting destruction of such products. By registering of the trade mark in question HASBRO had the intention of its use in isolation from the goods for which it was registered, and the intention of closing the access to the market for its competitors, the more that HASBRO as a professional market player should knew or should have known that the term “kucyk pony” as used for the toys in the form of a pony does not have any sufficient distinctiveness. INTERKOBO stressed that HASBRO Sp. z o.o. is a part of capital group operating on the global toys market, which is the position that allows it to dominate the market for local manufacturers of toys and contrary to the scope of the use made of registration to combat competition, which is contrary to the principles of the social coexistence. HASBRO claimed that its sign is used on the Polish market, on the packaging of “kucyk pony” toys and other materials, since 1998 and is the subject of a number of marketing activities, and the brand “kucyk pony” includes not only toys, but also videos and a monthly magazine for children. HASBRO argued that its trade mark has a strong distinctive character and can be regarded as a reputable one, in relation to the goods it designates it has the so-called primary distinctive character. The Polish Patent Office dismissed the request. INTERKOBO filed a complaint against PPO’s decision.

The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its judgment of 24 June 2010 case file VI SA/Wa 203/10 affirmed this decision and dismissed the case. The VAC held that the trade mark in question is is a fanciful sign and has the primary distinctive character. It is not a generic name of any of the listed goods, and it does not inform about their properties. Pony (in Polish: kucyk) is the generic name of the horse species while it is not the name of the goods protected by the trade mark, which goods do not have any direct connection with any species of horses.

Unfair competition, case V CSK 162/08

December 14th, 2008, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Supreme Court in its judgment of 14 October 2008 case file V CSK 162/08 interpreted the provisions of Article 13 of the Polish Act of 16 April 1993 on Combating Unfair Competition – CUC – (in Polish: ustawa o zwalczaniu nieuczciwej konkurencji), Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 47, item 211, with subsequent amendments.

Article 13.
1. Imitating a finished product by way of technical means of reproduction, to copy an external image of such product where it may mislead customers as to the identity of the producer or product, shall be the act of unfair competition.
2. Imitating functional features of a product, in particular its make, structure and form ensuring its usefulness shall not be deemed the act of unfair competition. Where the imitation of functional features of a finished product requires including its characteristic form, which may mislead customers as to the producer or product identity, the imitator is under obligation to adequately mark the product.

The SC held that an act of unfair competition within the meaning of Article 13(1) of the CUC is also based on introduction to the market by a third-party of products copied in the manner specified in that provision.

Unfair competition law, case I CKN 1319/00

December 7th, 2008, Tomasz Rychlicki

Lego system A/S, Lego Trading A/S, Kirkbi A/S from Denmark and Lego Polska spólka z o.o. sued Polish companies “COBERT” spólka z o.o. and “COBI” for unfair competition (the delict of imitating a product) based on regulations included in article 13 of the Polish Act of 16 April 1993 on Combating Unfair Competition – CUC – (in Polish: ustawa o zwalczaniu nieuczciwej konkurencji), Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 47, item 211, with subsequent amendments.

Article 13.1. Imitating a finished product by way of technical means of reproduction, to copy an external image of such product where it may mislead customers as to the identity of the producer or product, shall be the act of unfair competition.

2. Imitating functional features of a product, in particular its make, structure and form ensuring its usefulness shall not be deemed the act of unfair competition. Where the imitation of functional features of a finished product requires including its characteristic form, which may mislead customers as to the producer or product identity, the imitator is under obligation adequately to mark the product.

COBERT is a manufacturer of plastic bricks. These bricks are structurally compatible with LEGO’s bricks and externally; some of them are very similar to LEGO’s. There is a “Cobi” trade mark impressed on each brick. The right for protection was granted by the Polish Patent Office on 6 September 1993 (R-77743). Each packaging is printed in colour and in addition there is a clearly visible “Cobi” sign in six different places of the packaging. There is also a sign of the manufacturer, with an indication of his exact address. The court of first instance noted that colours and themes of packaging for COBERT bricks are different than those used by LEGO. Those findings were acknowledged by the court of appeal. The court also held that the average customer can not be confused as to the origin of these bricks. According to the Court, the plaintiffs did not show any evidences that would allow them to base its claims on the so-called “unnamed delict” as afforded by regulations included in Article 3(1) of the CUC.

The act of unfair competition shall be the activity contrary to the law or good practices which threatens or infringes the interest of another entrepreneur or customer.

LEGO filed a cassation complaint before the Polish Supreme Court in which it requested the Supreme Court to overrule the court of appeal’s jugdment and to order the court of appeal to hear the case again or to change the appealed judgment by the SC and to issue a ruling as to the facts and costs of proceedings. The SC dismissed the cassation complaint. The Court noticed that parties had provided both extensive and exhaustive arguments about the conditions leading to qualify an act as unfair competition delict. Those arguments included economic, legal, even ethical issues. However, the Court held that imitation of others’ products is not reprehensible and blameworthy per se. The progress of civilization is possible thanks to the past legacy. Therefore, the development and improvement of each product is in the public interest. The Supreme Court found that CUC regulations are designed to ensure the accuracy of the behavior and activities of business entities in conditions of free competition and access to the market on an equal footing.

The Polish Supreme Court in its judgment of 11 July 2002 case file I CKN 1319/00 found that implementation of the constitutional principle of economic freedom also justifies the search for balance between market freedom and the freedom of goods circulation and the objectives of the CUC. The court found that the ban on other’s products imitation would lead to the emergence of unlimited monopoly against exploitation of technical solution (technology) and would prevent or at least hindered from entering the market for other companies engaged in the same or similar business activity. In Court’s view that was based on the principle of economic freedom and the rules of fair competition, such ban would be in contradiction with the law. The mere imitation of goods of another business, imitation of goods that are not enjoying any special protection by exclusive rights, does not conflict with the pursuit of competition and does not justify the interpretation of article 13 or 3 of the CUC that it is a delict of unfair competition, even if copies are in the same size as the original brick. As regards the packaging the SC held that comprehensive and clear indication of the manufacturer which is placed on a product packaging, and permanent placement of a trade mark on each product, which are put on the market, excludes the possibility of consumer confusion as to the identity of the manufacturer or the product.

Unfair competition case, V CSK 311/06

May 11th, 2007, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Supreme Court in its judgment of 2 January 2007 case file V CSK 311/06 held that it is contrary to good customs/practice to introduce into the market of a product that is generically equivalent to existing goods that are produced by another manufacturer, if the attraction of the attention of customers was caused by the similarity of the packages that created positive associations in the minds of customers’ of the product previously introduced. This case concerned food packaging and labels of spices that were sold under brands Kucharek and Vegeta.

Unfair competition, case I ACa 900/99

September 11th, 2005, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Appellate Court in Katowice in its judgment of 29 March 2000 case file I ACa 900/99, interpreted provisions of article 13 of the Polish Act of 16 April 1993 on Combating Unfair Competition – CUC – (in Polish: ustawa o zwalczaniu nieuczciwej konkurencji), Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 47, item 211, with subsequent amendments.

Article 13.
1. Imitating a finished product by way of technical means of reproduction, to copy an external image of such product where it may mislead customers as to the identity of the producer or product, shall be the act of unfair competition.
2. Imitating functional features of a product, in particular its make, structure and form ensuring its usefulness shall not be deemed the act of unfair competition. Where the imitation of functional features of a finished product requires including its characteristic form, which may mislead customers as to the producer or product identity, the imitator is under obligation to adequately mark the product.

The Court held that according to the intention of the legislator, the delicts/torts defined in article 13 of the CUC concern not imitation, in general, but only the so-called “slavish imitation” (also referred to as look-alikes, knock-offs or parasitic copying), which is based on copying the external appearance of a product by technical means of reproduction and it creates the likelihood of customer confusion as to the identity of the manufacturer or a product.

Unfair competition, case I ACa 147/99

August 10th, 2005, Tomasz Rychlicki

The Appellate Court in Lublin in its judgment of 27 May 1999 case file I ACa 147/99 ruled that the term “competitive activity” shall mean all actions taken in connection with participation in the market gambling, consisting in achieving maximum benefit from the sale of goods. The court also clarified the provisions of Article 13 of the Polish Act of 16 April 1993 on Combating Unfair Competition – CUC – (in Polish: ustawa o zwalczaniu nieuczciwej konkurencji), Journal of Laws (Dziennik Ustaw) No. 47, item 211, with subsequent amendments.

Article 13.
1. Imitating a finished product by way of technical means of reproduction, to copy an external image of such product where it may mislead customers as to the identity of the producer or product, shall be the act of unfair competition.
2. Imitating functional features of a product, in particular its make, structure and form ensuring its usefulness shall not be deemed the act of unfair competition. Where the imitation of functional features of a finished product requires including its characteristic form, which may mislead customers as to the producer or product identity, the imitator is under obligation to adequately mark the product.

The Court held that according to article 13 of the CUC, it is the important, that the copied outer form of the product creates the likelihood of customer confusion as to the identity of the manufacturer or a product. This situation appears only when the product becomes a commodity, that goes on the market and it’s exposed for sale to buyers.