19 November 2009

CFI rejects "CANNABIS" trade mark’s registration for beverages

photo © 2006 olga.palma | more info (via: Wylio)

In its judgment delivered today the Court of First Instance dismissed Giampietro Torresan’s appeal against an earlier decision of OHIM‘s Cancellation Division. OHIM’s decision had declared the (previously obtained) registration of the Community trade mark

“CANNABIS” invalid

with respect to goods in Classes 32 (beers) and 33 (alcoholic beverages except beers) of the Nice Agreement. In its decision OHIM found that the trade mark “CANNABIS” was descriptive in terms of Article 7(1)(c) of Regulation No 40/94.Curiously, it was the same OHIM that registered the word sign “CANNABIS” as a Community trade mark for beers, wine and spirits some years ago, namely on 16 April 2003.

However, few weeks thereafter the German Klosterbrauerei Weissenohe GmbH & Co. KG, applied to OHIM to declare the trade mark’s invalidity with regard to Classes 32 and 33. OHIM found in favour of the Germans, Giampietro then appealed and – eventually – lost.

These are the facts. Much more interesting are the findings of the CFI.

The Court pointed out that

“Cannabis” or “Hemp” Had Three Possible Meanings

(1) a textile plant which is subject to very strict legislation as regards the content of it active ingredient (tetrahydrocannabinol: THC); (2) a narcotic which is prohibited by a great number of Member States; and (3) a substance the therapeutic use of which is under discussion.

The Court then pointed out that cannabis, given its very low concentration of THC, was used in the food sector. Equally important, the word “cannabis” was a Latin scientific term which was well known, was present in a number of European Community languages and has had a lot of media coverage. Based on that, the Court opined that the average consumer would perceive the trade mark

“CANNABIS” As A Description

of one of the characteristics of the goods bearing that mark.

The Regulation on Community trade marks prohibits the registration of descriptive signs. Such signs are deemed incapable of fulfilling the indication-of-origin function which forms an integral part of a trade mark. The Court finally went on applying ECJ’s well established authority on the assessment of a mark’s descriptive character that is to be undertaken in relation to the goods for which the mark was registered and in the light of the presumed perception of an average consumer of those goods, who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect (eg Nestle SA vs Mars UK Ltd).

Having read this ruling, I made a quick research using OHIM’s search engine. I sought for registrations containing the

Word Combination “Mary Jane”

and, found 5 matches. Two of them are registered in the Class 32 and one in Class 33.

By the way, what would be the “well informed” and “reasonably observant and circumspect” consumer’s perception of “Mary Jane” on beer or liquor bottles?

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