6 November 2012

Pussy Riot Trade Mark Prepares to Enter the Market


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Image: Grafite para Pussy Riot by Cayoo via Wikimedia Commons
Grafite para Pussy Riot

During the trial of the Russian punk rock band Pussy Riot there were voices of concern that the three young ladies would not really care for their political message, but would rather be looking for cheap popularity, which they eventually could transform into cash.

The information I recently came across (here in English as well as here, here and here in Russian) show that there have indeed been

aspirations to exploit the current media hype

although the latter should not be attributed to the meanwhile jailed musicians, but to a company related to their lawyer Mark Feygin.

According to the quoted sources, the OOO Kinokompania WEB-BIO has applied for the registration of the trade mark “Pussy Riot” not only with the Russian Patent Office Rospatent, but also with Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM), which administers the so called Community Trade Marks.

Unfortunately, one could not reasonably accuse Rospatent of being particularly transparent, so the only trade mark  application accessible online is the one with OHIM (filed under number 011 182 367).

The latter provides us with the basic information about

the large number of classes applied for

(3, 9, 10, 13, 14, 16, 18, 25, 26, 28, 32, 33, 34, 35, 38, 41, 42, 45) evidencing for the strong entrepreneurial vigour with which Web-BIO is obviously intending to enter the market.

Weird trade mark applications and registrations are not unusual, when it comes to Russia.

During the last couple of years market participants managed to successfully register brands such as “Christmas” and “New Year” for banking services (read more here and here) as well as “Anna Chapman” for clothing and beverages (read more here).

As I am particularly interested in Russian trade marks, I will follow also the story of the Pussy Riot brand, thus – stay tuned.

25 January 2012

The Boss Of Passing Off


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Two days ago I took this picture in the Serbian town of Subotica.

As you can see, a local entrepreneur is using that very famous brand to promote their own business, obviously consisting in the provision of food and drink.

The funny thing is that Hugo Boss has a trade mark registration in Serbia (albeit not for class 43) and that the Serbian Trade Mark Act protects well-known marks.

While I didn`t feel confused that the fashion brand might have something in common with a provincial restaurant in Serbia, I could not but perceive that the local entrepreneur has undertaken serious efforts to imitate both, the trade mark and the get-up of BOSS.

Thus, do you share my view that his use of the famous mark represents an unfair advantage and is detrimental to said mark`s distinctive character?

8 December 2011

Apple’s iPad Trade Mark Bumped In China


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Image: Logo de l’iPad by Rob Janoff via Wikimedia Commons
Apple ipad

As FT.com reports, a recent Chinese court ruling prevents Apple from using “its” iPad trade mark in China.

The reason therefor

seems to lie in a dispute between Apple and the Taiwanese company Proview Electronics.
Funnily, Proview is no stranger to Apple.

Somewhere between 2000 and 2004 the Taiwanese company had registered the trade mark iPad in the EU, China, Mexico, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, but in 2006

decided  to assign

it to Apple by concluding a global agreement.

When Apple started to sell its iPad devices in mainland China, they did surprisingly encounter trade mark infringement proceedings brought by Proview Technology, the Chinese affiliate of Proview Electronics. The litigation value is said to amount to 1,6 billion USD, which is absolutely ridiculous if you bear in mind that the 2006 trade mark purchase counted some

shabby 55.000 USD

Some other reports derive Proview Technology’s combativeness from that fact that it has been insolvent for some time. The Chinese branch could thus have spotted an opportunity to cash in on Apple.

It is not Apple’s first dispute over the iPad trade mark.
The Cupertino company has so far been successful in regulating the cases arising from purported infringements and I have no doubts as to how they will end up with this particular situation.

17 November 2011

Where Pizza Meets Haute Couture


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Saw this one yesterday in downtown Sofia and could not resist to take a picture and blog on it.

Later I was somewhat surprised to find out that Escada had obtained a Bulgarian registration for their trade mark already in 2003.

Could there be room for a sound dilution claim based on Art 4 (3) of the trade mark directive?

13 June 2011

Apples Growing Clouds


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Image by Sean MacEntee on Flickr

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Apple officially launched its much-hyped iCloud suite of services, applied for the registration of the trademark “iCloud” and entered the hostile territory of trade mark infringement: the Arizona based iCloud Communications LLC brought legal proceedings against Apple Inc before the Federal District Court for the District of Arizona.

Does it sound familiar? I personally felt reminded of Apple’s dispute with Fujitsu over the iPad trade mark. Indeed, the current situation is similar to the iPad case, but nevertheless distinctive in some important instances.

When I first read about the lawsuit I navigated to the US Patent and Trademark Office’ website and performed a search thereby processing the sign “iCloud”.
And you know what?
Apart from Apple’s numerous applications, there is only one US registered trade mark consisting of the iCloud sign and it is owned by the Swedish company Xcerion AB. The same is true also with respect to the Community Trade Mark  iCloud. Xcerion has registered both, the US and the Community Trade Mark for classes 9 and 42.

What follows is that iCloud Communications’ mark

Is Not A Registered One

Should they then qualify to claim infringement at all?

Yes, however not on the ground of registered trade mark infringement, but on unfair competition and false designation.
Indeed, iCloud Communications’ complaint relies on § 1125 (a) of the Lanham Act as well as on Arizona state law.
Precisely, iCloud Communications claims that Apple infringes upon the iCloud trade mark of iCloud Communications, because

By virtue of iCloud Communications’ long and extensive use of the iCloud Marks, its advertising and promotional campaigns and expenditure of substantial monies thereon, iCloud Communications had, prior to June 6, 2011, established significant goodwill and valuable rights in and ownership to the iCloud Marks in connection with computer telephony and electronic data transmission and storage services.

and

The goods and services with which Apple intends to use the “iCloud” mark are identical to or closely related to the goods and services that have been offered by iCloud Communications under the iCloud Marks since its formation in 2005.

Reads pretty logical, does it not?
Well,

Besides One Thing

Apple’s attempt to register and use the iCloud mark is not the first one: iCloud Communications themselves mention the previous trade mark registration of Xcerion

whose use of the mark post-dates that of iCloud Communications by two years.

So, is there any reason why iCloud Communications omitted to sue Xcerion?

Hmm, from what I read on the Internet, some wagging tongues allege that Xcerion’s Pockets

Were Not Deep Enough

Hence, observing the development of the iPhone and iPad disputes, this one is also likely to end up in a settlement agreement.

In that event Apple will have to pay a (negligible) amount of money to operate a nursery in the clouds.

From a legal point of view, however, the matter involves the (alleged) infringement of an unregistered trade mark by a registration application.
This is not really common place and thus of a greater interest for me.
I will therefore stay focused on it.

Did I miss something? It is now you turn to add -)!

21 May 2011

Apple’s Appstore Or Tradmarking Descriptiveness


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Image by Rudi Riet on Flickr

365162021_7c71853ba9_z

Let me ask you a funny question: should a keeper of a greengrocer’s shop be granted the trade mark “greengrocery” for, say, class 31?

I can almost hear you shouting “No, for God’s sake, he should not!”

Well, I was joking, but why actually not? Is it because if the good greengrocer monopolised an everyday’s term for his trading purposes no other greengrocer would be able to run its shop?

Let me address this question in the story and consecutive analysis I am going to present below.

Believe it or not, but Apple managed to register the word marks

Appstore And App Store

with the Office For The Harmonization In The Internal Market (OHIM), which has authority to grant Community Trade Marks (CTM). Appstore bears the number 005554779 and is registered for classes 35 and 42. App Store bears the number 007078314 and is registered for classes 35, 37, 38 and 42.
If you like, you can conduct your own search using OHIM’s search application.

What both marks have in common is the fact that their registrations are pending cancellation.

Funnily, a broad front consisting of large technology companies such as Microsoft, HTC, Nokia and Sony Ericsson each filed formal applications for declaration of

Invalidity

of Apple’s two trade marks with OHIM.
The Intellectual Property Watch has the story and I strongly recommend you to read it.

Anyway, what could have been the reasoning of the tech companies, what could they have claimed? That is easy – what did we talk about at the beginning of this article, huh?
Yes, we talked about the monopolising of an everyday’s term. Everyday’s terms are generally considered descriptive for the purposes of trade mark law.
The CTM Regulation (207/2009) provides in its Article 7 (1) (c) that no registration shall be granted to

trade marks which consist exclusively of signs or indications which may serve, in trade, to designate the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin or the time of production of the goods or of rendering of the service, or other characteristics of the goods or service;

In other words, the tech giants have very likely claimed that the Apple’s trade marks are descriptive and therefore should have never been granted. Since OHIM granted them once to Apple, they should now be invalidated.

But wait a minute, what about

Baby-Dry

and what if Apple relied on it as authority?

Indeed, Baby-Dry was the high point of the European Court’s liberal attitude to registrability of descriptive marks. However, if I was to advise Apple in this instant case, I would not recommend them to rely on Baby-Dry.
Because in its later

Doublemint

judgment the Court realised that matters had gone too far in Baby-Dry and needed to be reined in.
In Doublemint the Court referred to the so called principle of availability, which says that there is a public interest that descriptive terms may be freely used by all traders.

Let me wrap it up: Appstore and App Store are (very likely) descriptive and OHIM might rule that they should be free for all.
By the way, have you read about Nokia’s plan to launch a co-branded App Store?

My Conclusion

We must not forget that trade marks provide their proprietor with a limited monopoly over the use of a sign in connection with the marketing of goods and/or services.
However and since Baby-Dry is no longer reliable authority, Apple’s adversaries have a strong case and good arguments to invalidate Apple’s registered trade marks.

Finally, you do not want Apple to trademark the descriptiveness, do you?

13 May 2011

Why You Cannot Trademark Free Speech


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Image by opensource.com on FLickr

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In the free speech context, the function of trade marks can be quite complicated. In recent time, trade marks have become a general purpose device for private parties to use when they want to suppress speech they do not like. And they are trying to suppress the speech of others not merely to protect their legitimate economic interests but because of aesthetic and political disagreements.

Anyway, to understand how intertwined trade marks and free speech are, you need first to

Understand Trade Marks

in general.

You should think of consumer protection in order to best understand trade mark law: trade marks are instruments that help consumers orient in an ocean of goods and services and, help them make respective choices. Therefore, trademarks are protectible; albeit to the extent they represent the quality or reputation associated with a product or service. The proprietorship over a trade mark allows trade mark owners to claim damages, when their trade marks are infringed.

But what is a

Trade Mark Infringement

in the first place?

Usually, this is one trader’s act of unauthorised use of a sign that is similar or identical to another trader’s trade mark. First trader’s  unauthorised use must be with respect to products or services identical or similar to those of the second trader, it must further occur in the course of commerce and be likely to create confusion among the consumers as to the origin of first trader’s goods. Why will the consumers be confused? Because they will think the first trader is the source of the products or services and not the second one.

Indeed, this is all legitimate in a commercial context, but should it apply to

Non-Commercial Expressions

of political views?

This question has already been the subject of judicial review, for instance, in Lucasfilm Ltd. v. High Frontier, 622 F. Supp. 933, 934 (D.D.C. 1985) and MasterCard International, Inc. v. Nader 2000 Primary Committee, Inc. 70 U.S.P.Q.2d (BNA) 1046 (S.D.N.Y. 2004).
The judicature’s answer has steadily been a clear “no”.

Likewise, the US District Court for the District of Utah has recently delivered a ruling dismissing the claims of Koch Industries, a billion dollar company, against Youth For Climate Truth, a group concerned about climate change.
In particular, the honourable Justice Dale A. Kimball held

“On its Lanham Act claims, Koch lacks any evidence or plausible theory as to how Defendants could have profited commercially from an anonymous spoof website that sold no products and solicited no donations, that was disclosed only to reporters, and that was only online for a matter of hours. Defendants’ speech proposed no commercial transaction. Instead, it sought to draw public attention to Koch’s controversial stance on a political issue. Koch’s trademark and unfair-competition claims, therefore, fall outside the scope of the Lanham Act and are foreclosed by the act’s commercial-use requirement.”

You can check EFF’s website for further details on the case or read Eileen Rumfelt’s brilliant analysis on trade marks and the First Amendment for further deliberations.

In this respect it appears also worth referring to some French and hence

European Jurisprudence

on political/social uses of a trade mark.
In Greenpeace v. Esso the Paris Tribunal de Grande Instance held that

“the constitutional principle of the freedom of expression implies that the Greenpeace Association…can, in its writings or on its internet site, denounce, in whatever form it feels appropriate to the objective pursued, the environmental damage and the risks caused to human health by certain industrial activities. Although this freedom is not absolute, it can nevertheless only be subjected to the restrictions necessary for the protection of the rights of others …the Greenpeace Association through the modifications… clearly shows its intention…without misleading the public as to the identity of the author of communication…the E$$O symbol… even if it refers to the trademarks held by the respondent company, it is clearly not intended to promote the marketing of products or services…it is of a polemical character that is alien to business life.”

In Greenpeace v. AREVA the same court followed the Esso principles.

What are then the

Consequences

of this all?

It seems that both, legislature and judicature in western-type democracies have provided for the specific purpose of trade marks law: to be a shield against infringement in a commercial context. By the same token, legislature and judicature have well restrained trade mark owners from using the rights conferred by trade marks law as sharp-edged weaponry to pierce the right to political and hence non-commercial speech.

Still asking why no one can trademark free speech? It is simple: trade marks and free speech are fundamentally at odds.

Thoughts?

1 February 2011

The Spy Who Loved Her Name


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IMG_9950photo © 2010 zemistor | more info (via: Wylio)

Do you remember the bank that trademarked “Christmas”? Can happen only in Russia, right? Well, the land of Tolstoy, Bakunin and Putin shows once again that it is always good to provide for news relating to intellectual property!

The current case I would like to spend some words on is not as outrages as the “Christmas” one, though it involves a personality who not long ago gained a huge medial publicity.

Like to guess who might that be? Hm, what was this blog article’s name in the first place?

Yes, I can be talking only about Anna Kuschyenko, also known as Chapman! According to the Russian newspaper Komsomolskaya Pravda, the spy scandal heroine has successfully been granted the right to use her name as a trade mark for the classes 3, 14, 25, 28, 32, 33, 35 and 41. In doing so, Chapman obviously did what many others had already done in the past.

In this respect people have often asked me:

Are personal names registrable as trade marks?

In all generality, yes. While treated as descriptive signs and hence “weak” marks in the US, they are to be assessed exactly the same way as any other prospective trade marks in the European Union.
In other words, both jurisdictions allow the registration of personal names with their respective trade mark offices.

Apparently the same is true also under Russian trade mark law. Nevertheless, there is one thing I don’t really feel kosher about when considering the registrability of the Chapman mark. After all she was accused to have participated in an espionage affair and thus deported back to Russia. I would have classified those circumstances disparaging, had I been appointed to examine Ms Chapman’s application and, would have eventually rejected it. But Russia is different and we all know that. Russia loves its spies and treats them as heroes. Would it be then permissible to ask:

Was the trade mark registration Russia’s payoff to Ms Chapman?

I am afraid we will never figure this one out. In any case she spied in her country’s name, did love its own and succeeded in trademarking it!

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