How to deal with descriptive elements of a trade mark

Posted on January 21st, 2015

 

Marketeer’s favour marks that describe a characteristic of their product or service for the reason that they inform the public efficiently on what is being offered. IP lawyers always warn their clients not to do so, because such marks provide no monopoly or only a weak one. That is because the freedom to compete is the enemy of the IP monopoly. Competitors may also use descriptive words for identifying relevant characteristics of their product or service. This explains why trademark registries refuse to register descriptive words as a trade or service mark. For example EUROPOLIS and GLASHELDER (“cristal clear”) were refused as trade mark for insurance services. If you introduce a new product and market that under a more or less descriptive word or words, there is a chance that this word or these words become a valid or even a strong mark in the absence of a competing product. That chance is even bigger, if the product itself is protected by a patent or a design right. In IP jargon it is called that the descriptive word(s) acquire a secondary meaning: for the relevant public it (or they) identify that specific product as deriving from a specific source. In Dutch one speaks of “inburgering”. If you introduce a new product, you will not be the only source of this type of product for ever. At a certain moment – for instance when the patent or design right expires – you will meet competition. As off that moment you must fear that your descriptive mark will also lose its exclusivity. That is why, when introducing a new product under a descriptive mark, you are well advised to introduce at the same time a generic name of that product; another or even more descriptive word. And make sure that you always use this generic name next or in combination with your trade mark. Only in that event you may hope that you can force your competitors to use the generic equivalent of your trade mark instead of your trade mark in order to describe the quality of the product.

The same prudence also asks for action against the registration of trademarks that also contain the descriptive element. The existence of several trademarks with the same descriptive element, underlines the descriptiveness of that element. That is why Novartis opposed the registration of BIOCERTas a EU markby a competitor on the basis of its older Austrian trademark BIOCEF. Both concern pharmaceuticals. The opposition failed at the level of the EU Registry. Decisive was the argument that the element BIO in Novartis’ trademark is exclusively descriptive for pharmaceutical products and that therefore the differences between the elements CERT and CEF suffice to consider the marks as not to be similar. This is more or less common practice of registries and courts. Although the rule is that the respective marks must be considered as a whole, often the non-descriptive elements are decisive for the decision. Novartis was, however, successful in appeal with the General Court. Although the element BIO is descriptive in respect of goods covered by the marks at issue, it remains a fact, considers the General Court, that the weak distinctive character of an element of a mark does not necessarily mean that it will not be taken into consideration by the relevant public. Looking at both marks as a whole, the court considers that the visual and phonetic similarities between the marks at issue do not arise only from the presence of the element ‘bio’ in the marks at issue, but also from other factors, such as the almost identical length of the signs and the fact that their first five letters match. The same letters appear in the initial part of each of those marks. But this decision nonetheless confirms the risk of using descriptive words as element of your trademark. The judgment of the General Court in case T-605/11, dates 10 December 2014. A summary by Paul Steinhauser is published in World Trademark Review Daily of 5-1-2015 (See attachment).  gerecht Novartis BIOCEF BIOCERP

 

 

De overeenkomst tussen de kunstenaar en de galerie

Posted on September 1st, 2014

Wat is de aard van de overeenkomst tussen een kunstenaar en de galerie?

Bij de Rechtbank Oost-Brabant speelden onlangs twee procedures, waarin in augustus 2014 uitspraak werd gedaan. (Zie noot 1.) In beide zaken sloten de kunstenaar en de galerie een mondelinge overeenkomst, waarbij de galerie het op zich nam werken van de kunstenaar te verkopen. Was het een consignatieovereenkomst of een agentuurovereenkomst? Zou het een agentuurovereenkomst zijn, dan is de kantonrechter bevoegd en anders de rechtbank. Als de kantonrechter bevoegd is, is geen bijstand van advocaten vereist. Maar dat kan hier niet de reden zijn van het opwerpen van deze vraag, want beide partijen procedeerden met advocaten. Wat dan wel de reden was deze voorvraag aan de orde te stellen, laat zich slechts raden.

Kenmerk van een consignatieovereenkomst is dat de kunstenaar eigenaar blijft van het werk, dat hij aan de galerie heeft geleverd ten behoeve van expositie en verkoop. Maar dat is ook denkbaar bij een agentuurovereenkomst. De consignatieovereenkomst is echter niet wettelijk geregeld en de agentuurovereenkomst wel. (Zie noot 2.) De wetgever heeft het destijds wenselijk geoordeeld de positie van de handelsagent te regelen, wat met name uitkomst biedt als er geen schriftelijke overeenkomst is gesloten. De wettelijke bepalingen tonen aan dat het de wetgever vooral te doen is om een bescherming van de handelsagent, die in maatschappelijk en economisch opzicht als de zwakkere partij wordt beschouwd. Bij de relatie tussen de kunstenaar en de galerie is echter eerder het omgekeerde het geval. Maar dat neemt niet weg dat de overeenkomst tussen de kunstenaar en een galerie zou kunnen worden gekwalificeerd als een agentuur.
Kenmerk van de agentuurovereenkomst is dat de handelsagent er, niet in dienst van de opdrachtgever, zijn werk van maakt overeenkomsten af te sluiten ten behoeve van de opdrachtgever, door de wet principaal genoemd. Die overeenkomst kan hij op eigen naam of op naam van de principaal afsluiten. Een belangrijk onderdeel van de wettelijke bepalingen is het recht op beloning van de handelsagent. Maar ook de beëindiging van de overeenkomst is geregeld. Het kan daarom aantrekkelijk zijn voor de galerie dat de overeenkomst wordt aangemerkt als een agentuur. Bijvoorbeeld als de overeenkomst zonder opzegtermijn is beëindigd of wanneer er door de kunstenaar een werk is verkocht aan een klant van de galerie zonder de galerie daarvoor te belonen. In de procedure waar de rechter aannam dat het inderdaad ging om een agentuurovereenkomst, baseerde hij dat op de constatering dat sprake was van een duurzame relatie voor onbepaalde tijd tegen een aan de galerie te betalen vergoeding voor zijn werkzaamheden, die er op gericht zijn om de objecten van de kunstenaar te verkopen. In de andere zaak stonden de standpunten van partijen zo tegenover elkaar dat de rechter onvoldoende houvast had om aan te nemen dat het om een agentuurovereenkomst ging. De kunstenaar betwistte zelfs dat hij opdracht tot bemiddeling had gegeven. Deze zaak toont aan hoe belangrijk het is dat er in elk geval aan de hand van correspondentie kan worden aangetoond wat partijen beoogden.
Het veiligste voor de kunstenaar is natuurlijk dat hij het werk aan de galerie verkoopt. Van een hogere verkoop door de galerie krijgt hij dan echter niets, tenzij dat wordt afgesproken. Het meest gebruikelijk is de consignatieovereenkomst. De galerie mag het kunstwerk namens de kunstenaar verkopen, op welk moment de eigendom overgaat van de kunstenaar naar de koper. De galerie draagt aan de kunstenaar een deel van de koopsom af. Het verschil is de beloning van de galerie. Deze constructie is ook nuttig met het oog op de BTW, omdat bij verkoop door de kunstenaar het lage tarief toepasselijk is. Zodra de samenwerking een bestendig karakter krijgt, kan de galerie de relatie duiden als een agentuurovereenkomst.

Wellicht zijn de einduitspraken in deze zaken aanleiding voor een aanvullend bericht.

1) ECLI:NL:RBOBR:2014:5045 en 5046.
2) De artikelen 428 tot en met 445 van boek 7 van het Burgerlijk Wetboek

Cross-Border measures against IP infringement

Posted on September 1st, 2014

The first contribution to this website news page concerns a newsletter of Prof. Cohen Jehoram of the firm De Brauw Blackstone Westbroek, a good friend and colleague of Paul Steinhauser. The cross border injunction is and always has been an efficient weapon against infringement that was offered to right owners by the Dutch courts. Very often an infringement does not confine itself to just one country and it makes sense that the court in one country can give an order that also stops the infringement in the other countries where the infringement takes place. For many years the Dutch courts were prepared to render such orders until the Court of Justice of the EU gave its judgements in the cases Roche vs. Primus and GAT vs. LuK. The Dutch courts, however, interpreted these judgements as not being applicable to interim injunctions, the so called “kort geding”. This approach was sanctioned last year by the CJEU in its Solvay vs. Honeywell judgement of 12 July 2012. The newsletter of Cohen Jehoram focuses on other European measures that are available in the fight against European-wide infringement: the Anti-Piracy Regulation and the securing of cross-border evidence. Read more…

Recently, in the first half of 2014, Paul was involved in a case where the US and UK food company Kettle Foods opposed the use of the indication “Kettle Cooked” in Germany and the Netherlands by the Intersnack Group. Alleging that their trademark KETTLE for chips (or crisps, as the English call this product) was well-known, they argued that the relevant public would associate the competing chips, marketed as “Kettle Cooked”, with their product, which would cause dilution of the trademark KETTLE. Intersnack used this indication for its CHIO chips and argued that they were allowed to use this indication because the relevant public would understand it as a reference to a particular method of production. The courts of the first and second instance in “kort geding”-proceedings of The Hague agreed with this defence. The judgment of the Court of Appeals of The Hague is very interesting to read, more in particular because it also contains interesting considerations regarding the competence of the Dutch “Kort Geding”courts to render cross border injunctions. If the court would have found that the use of “Kettle Food”was infringing, they woudl have given an injunction, not only for the Benelux, but for Germany and other EU countries as well. The judgment is attached in Dutch and in an Englich translation.Arrest Gerechtshof Den Haag d.d. 15-07-2014-1 Decision in Appeal – Intersnack c.s. Kettle Foods c.s. – Translation into English

Patent on Plants revisited

Posted on September 1st, 2014

Earlier we reported on the Taste of Nature case, in which Paul Steinhauser acts for Taste of Nature. In that earlier news item, we mentioned the proceedings on the merits before the Court of First Instance of The Hague and promised to provide more information regarding these proceedings once the court gave its decision. That was given on 8 May 2013 and is attached to this message.vonnis ToN 41968 eng

For the international discussion of the scope and interpretation of art. 53(b) EPC, the paragraphs 5.3 – 5.10 of the judgment are important. The court rejects the view of Cresco and of the interlocutory judge and holds that the claimed Raphanus plant does not fall under art. 53(b) EPC.  In brief: art. 53(b) only speaks of “processes” and the claimed invention is not a process but a product,  i.e. a plant, notwithstanding that this product is defined by means of a manufacturing process. The fact that the EPC consistently distinguishes between products and processes, shows that by just using “processes” in this article, the legislator chose not to apply this article to products.

The court decided not to wait for the answer of the Enlarged Board of Appeal of the EPO on the 3 questions of the TBA in the Tomato II case, because there is no indication how long that will take.

At this moment the parties are waiting for the final judgment of the court, which is scheduled for October 1, 2014. In the previous months they submitted evidence and heard witnesses in connection with the order of the court in respect of the alleged public availability of the invention before the priority date and the infringement.

 

Limits to attacking a subcontractor for trademark infringement

Posted on January 30th, 2014

At the request of World Trademark Review I wrote a brief synopsis (see the attachment)  of the final judgment of the Dutch Supreme Court (Hoge Raad) in the case of Red Bull versus Frisdranken Industrie. Winters.  Supreme_Court_mere_filling_of_cans_does_not_constitute_trademark_use

INTA Opposition Guide Benelux

Posted on January 9th, 2014

Over the past decennia, I have been the contributor to the online Opposition Guide as published by INTA, the International Trademark Association, a US institution, based in New York.  In December 2013, INTA asked me to update the Benelux chapter so that it reflects the current law in the Benelux countries.  The Benelux chapter is added to this news item in pdf. INTA Opposition Guide BNL

Patents on plants?

Posted on February 26th, 2013

Paul Steinhauser acts for Taste of Nature in patent proceedings against Cresco. These proceedings attract the interested circles in the Netherlands and abroad, because they concern the interpretation of article 53(b) of the European Patent Convention (EPC).  Taste of Nature owns European patent EP 1 290 938 B1 concerning a Raphanus with increased anthocyanin levels. The main claim reads:  “A Raphanus sativa plant, obtainable by screening Raphanus sativa plants for their ability to produce sprouts with at least some purple coloring, selfing and/or crossing said plants for several generations and selecting progeny having sprouts with purple coloring, characterized in that the sprout of said plant comprises anthocyanins at a level of at least 800 nmol per gram fresh weight of sprout”.  Article 53 EPC excludes certain inventions from patent protection. Paragraph b thereof concerns plant or animal varieties or essentially biological processes for the production of plants or animals.  Cresco pleads that EP 938 is invalid under this provision, whereas Taste of Nature pleads that this article does not preclude from patent protection products that are obtainable by an essentially biological process, as had been decided by the Enlarged Board of Appeal (EBA) of the European Patent Office (EPO) in the well-known Tomato II case G2/12. The Technical Board of Appeal (TBA), that had to decide the matter after this decision of the EBA, doubted the correctness of this interpretation and referred 3 questions to the EBA in the hope that the EBA will revise its interpretation. The TBA also asked the president of the EPO to comment on these 3 questions, which he did in his report of 28-11-2012. The president advises that the EBA will maintain its earlier interpretation. He is of the opinion that a contrary interpretation will violate the generally accepted possibility to patent plants.

The Raphanus case has been pleaded in the proceedings on the merits on 18-1-2013 and a judgement of the District court of The Hague is expected on 8 March 2013.

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