The CJEU have recently issued a judgment in Case C-456/19, referred from the Swedish Patent and Market Court of Appeal. The case centred on whether a trade mark consisting of colour combinations, intended to be systematically affixed to goods used to deliver the services covered by an application, must depart significantly from the norms and customs of the commercial sector in order for the trade mark to have distinctive character. This is a test which has been applied in relation to 3D trade marks but we have not seen it applied to these type of colour combination marks before.
In March 2013 the mark was granted registration under EUTM No 010914836 in Classes 9, 20 and 35. The protected goods included “Smart phones, Mobile computing devices, tablets” and “Furniture”, while the services included the retailing, wholesaling and mail order of these and other goods. On 29 February 2016, Samsung Electronics GmbH (“Samsung”) applied for a declaration that the registration was invalid on the basis that the mark was non-distinctive and descriptive in relation to all of the protected goods and services. However, the Cancellation Division rejected Samsung’s application and the registration was maintained. The Cancellation Division found that the term “SMART THINGS” was descriptive, and noted that the figurative element “:)” (“the emoticon”) is ubiquitously used as a smiley in society at large, including in business, and has positive connotations. However, the Cancellation Division held that the emoticon endowed the mark with at least a minimum of distinctive character and meant that the mark as a whole was not purely descriptive.
EUIPO aiming for common practice on examination of 3D trade marks – a new practice note with effect from July 2020
In 2011 the EUIPO launched the “Convergence Programme” in order to improve the alignment of national and EU trade mark systems and to assist with the improvement of practices. The programme was based on regular exchange of information and discussion of issues among the EUIPO, national offices and user associations. On 1 April 2020 the EUIPO published CP9 Common Practice: “Distinctiveness of three-dimensional marks (shape marks) containing verbal and/or figurative elements when the shape is not distinctive in itself”.This sets out a two-step examination process for assessing the distinctive character of such marks.
A recent decision of the General Court demonstrates that the distinctiveness of a trade mark must be assessed in relation to the specific goods or services for which registration is sought. Hästens Sängar AB (which does business simply as “Hastens”) is a Swedish manufacturer specialising in beds, bedlinen, pillows and accessories. Hasten’s products have long featured a blue and white check pattern, which was apparently created in 1978 by the father of the current owner and executive chairman of the company. This check pattern is used on Hastens’ beds, mattresses and bed linen, as well as on clothing and other accessories. Hastens has registered the check pattern in Sweden and has sought to protect it by various means in many other territories. On 21 December 2016 Hastens applied to register a copyright claim in the US in a repeating “two-dimensional graphic pattern consisting of white, dark blue, medium blue and light blue rectangles arranged in a check pattern”.