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Case C-100/11 P
The present case concerns the appeal brought by Helena Rubinstein SNC and L’Oréal SA
(‘Helena Rubinstein’ and ‘L’Oréal’; or, collectively, ‘the appellants’) against the judgment by
which the General Court dismissed the actions which they had brought against the decisions of the First Board of Appeal of the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM) declaring invalid Community trademarks which they own: BOTOLIST and BOTOCYL.
Short history of the case
On 6 May 2002 and 9 July 2002 respectively, Helena Rubinstein and L’Oréal filed an
application with OHIM for registration of Community trademarks under Regulation No 40/94, as amended. (2) They sought to register the word signs BOTOLIST (Helena Rubinstein) and BOTOCYL (L’Oréal) for goods in Class 3 of the Nice Agreement, (3) including, in particular, cosmetics such as creams, milks, lotions, gels and powders for face, body and hands. The Community trademarks BOTOLIST and BOTOCYL were registered on 19 November 2003 and 14 October 2003 respectively. On 2 February 2005, Allergan, Inc. (‘Allergan’) filed an application with OHIM for a declaration of invalidity, in respect of both marks, on the basis of various earlier Community and national figurative and word marks having the sign BOTOX as their subject and registered between 12 April 1991 and 7 August 2003, chiefly for goods in Class 5 of the Nice Agreement, including – in so far as is relevant for present purposes – pharmaceutical preparations for the treatment of wrinkles
Resolution of the General Court
The General Court joined the proceedings and, by judgment of 16 December 2010 (‘the
judgment under appeal’), dismissed both actions and ordered Helena Rubinstein and L’Oréal to pay the costs. The judgment under appeal was notified to Allergan, as well as to Helena
Rubinstein, L’Oreal and OHIM.
Appeal filed by Helena Rubinstein and L’Oréal
The appeal has been based on four main points:
1) The Court statement is incompatible with the appellants’ claim – that the Board of Appeal, like the Cancellation Division, took account solely of Community trade mark No 2015832 – since it is both a word and a figurative mark and is not accompanied by any caption. At that point in the contested decisions, the Board of Appeal clearly refers to all the rights invoked by Allergan and not only to the mark mentioned by Helena Rubinstein and L’Oréal. Lastly, as both OHIM and Allergan point out, the fact that the General Court did not take any account of the figurative element of the Community trade mark in assessing the similarity of the marks under comparison
2) Reputation of the earlier marks. By the second complaint, Helena Rubinstein and L’Oréal claim that the General Court made various errors in law by concluding that proof had been furnished of the reputation of the earlier marks. Those criticisms – the admissibility or merits of which OHIM and Allergan contest on the basis of largely convergent arguments like: the relevant public, the relevant territory and evidence of the reputation of the trademarks.
3) Existence of a link between the earlier marks and the appellants’ marks. By the third complaint under the first ground of appeal, the appellants contest the finding made in the judgment under appeal that the relevant public will establish a link between the earlier marks BOTOX and the marks BOTOLIST and BOTOCYL, which the appellants own. According to the appellants, such a link cannot, in particular, be based on the common element ‘BOT’ or ‘BOTO’, since that is a descriptive element which refers to the botulinum toxin. The appellants claim the right to include that element, which is used in general to indicate the toxin in question, in their mark without being accused, on that ground, of attempting to link their marks with Allergan’s marks.
4) Damage caused to the earlier marks. As regards, more specifically, the concept of ‘taking unfair advantage of the distinctive character or the repute of the trade mark’ (also referred to as ‘parasitism’ or ‘free-riding’), the Court stated in L’Oréal that that concept relates not to the detriment caused to the mark but ‘to the advantage taken by the third party as a result of the use of the identical or similar sign’. According to the Court, it covers, in particular, ‘cases where, by reason of a transfer of the image of the mark or of the characteristics which it projects to the goods identified by the identical or similar sign, there is clear exploitation on the coat-tails of the mark with a reputation’
Motivation of the Court:
The Court does not seem entirely possible to agree with the reasoning followed in the
Judgment under appeal, at least when applied to the circumstances of the case. While not
absolutely excluding the admissibility of documentary evidence whose written elements do not need to be translated or translated in full, where their evidential value does not actually depend on their content or they are immediately comprehensible, that does not seem to me to be the position in the case of press articles which have been produced by a party in order to show that information had been disseminated regarding the therapeutic characteristics of a pharmaceutical preparation and that there was a broad awareness of that information among a specialist public and/or the public at large at a date before the date on which it was published.
The General Court states that although the statement of reasons for the contested decisions on the effects of the use of the appellants’ marks was ‘terse’, it allowed them to have the necessary information to contest the Board of Appeal’s findings in that regard. The appellants merely observe that what the General Court calls a statement of reasons consists of just two sentences and states the obvious, that is to say, that it does not constitute a ‘statement of reasons in the legal sense’. Contrary to the assertions made by the appellants, the Helena Rubinstein decision and the L’Oréal decision show the reasons which led the Board of Appeal, on the one hand, to find that there was no due cause to use the appellants’ marks and, on the other, to consider that the appellants had taken unfair advantage of the distinctive character of the mark BOTOX.Read More
Case File No XXII GWzt 15/08
British Petroleum p.l.c. requested that:
The respondent be prohibited from infringing the claimant’s registered rights of Community trade mark Nos 1 991, 1 142 363, 1 968 403, 3 363 652 and 1 916 550 by prohibiting it from:
a)using green as dominant colour on the outer surfaces of any buildings, structures and other elements of the ‘AS’ petrol station located in S or any other petrol station, in particular on the outer surfaces of roofed structures erected over the refueling points, on the station’s roof, boards placed on roofed pillars of the structures erected over the refueling points, signboards placed over each refueling point informing about the type of fuel available at a given point;
b) using the word and figurative sign of a round shape reminiscent of the image of a flower, whose central part is white, where the ring around the white centre is yellow and the outer layer, being composed of smaller elements, is green, on any element of the abovementioned petrol station or in its vicinity or any element of any other petrol station or element in the vicinity thereof (including elements of interior design), on any signboard, board or otherwise.
Resolution of the General Court
The Court decided to dismiss the respondent’s request for evidence because the Court adjudicating in cases for infringement of the registered rights of Community trademarks is competent to assess the risk of confusion.
The global assessment implies some interdependence between the factors taken into account, and in particular similarity between the trademarks and between the goods or services covered. Accordingly, a lesser degree of similarity between these goods or services may be offset by a greater degree of similarity between the trademarks, and vice versa.
In accordance with the established case-law, a likelihood of confusion exists when the public might believe that the goods or services in question come from the same undertaking or, as the case may be, from economically-linked undertakings.
The likelihood of confusion must be assessed globally, according to the relevant consumer’s perception and with account being taken of all factors relevant to the circumstances of the case, in particular the interdependence between the similarity of the signs and that of the goods or services designated.
Consequently, in the view of the Court, the infringement of the claimant’s registered rights to the Community trade marks by the respondent fully justified imposing the sanctions on the respondent pursuant to Article 9(2) of the Regulation. The Court found no reasons for deciding otherwise.Read More