FRIDAY, 21 AUGUST 2009
Resisting oppositions and cancellations in the UK: a new practice notice
The Intellectual Property Office in the United Kingdom has published this week a Tribunal Practice Notice (TPN 4/2009), Trade mark opposition and invalidation proceedings - defences. It reads as follows (with the key points being highlighted in red):
Defences including a claim that the applicant for registration/ registered proprietor has a registered trade mark that predates the trade mark upon which the attacker relies for grounds under sections 5(1) and 5(2) of the Act.
1. A number of counterstatements in opposition and invalidation actions have sought to introduce as a defence that the applicant for registration/registered proprietor has a registered trade mark (or trade mark application) for the same or a highly similar trade mark to that which is the subject of the proceedings that predates the earlier mark upon which the attacker relies.
2. Sections 5(1) and 5(2) of the Act turn upon whether the attacker has an earlier trade mark compared to the mark under attack, as defined by section 6 of the Act. Whether the applicant for registration/registered proprietor has another registered trade mark (or trade mark application) that predates the earlier mark upon which the attacker relies cannot affect the outcome of the case in relation to these grounds.
3. The position was explained by the Court of First Instance in PepsiCo, Inc v Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM) T-269/02:
"24 Nor did the applicant claim, and even less prove, that it had used its earlier German mark to obtain cancellation of the intervener’s mark before the competent national authorities, or even that it had commenced proceedings for that purpose.
25 In those circumstances, the Court notes that, quite irrespective of the question whether the applicant had adduced evidence of the existence of its earlier German mark before OHIM, the existence of that mark alone would not in any event have been sufficient reason for rejecting the opposition. The applicant would still have had to prove that it had been successful in having the intervener’s mark cancelled by the competent national authorities.
26 The validity of a national trade mark, in this case the intervener’s, may not be called in question in proceedings for registration of a Community trade mark, but only in cancellation proceedings brought in the Member State concerned (Case T 6/01 Matratzen Concord v OHIM - Hukla Germany (MATRATZEN)  ECR II 4335, paragraph 55). Moreover, although it is for OHIM to ascertain, on the basis of evidence which it is up to the opponent to produce, the existence of the national mark relied on in support of the opposition, it is not for it to rule on a conflict between that mark and another mark at national level, such a conflict falling within the competence of the national authorities."
The position with regard to defences based on use of the trade mark under attack which precedes the date of use or registration of the attacker’s mark
4. The viability of such a defence was considered by Ms Anna Carboni, sitting as the appointed person, in Ion Associates Ltd v Philip Stainton and Another, BL O-211-09. Ms Carboni rejected the defence as being wrong in law.
5. Users of the Intellectual Property Office are therefore reminded that defences to section 5(1) or (2) grounds based on the applicant for registration/ registered proprietor owning another mark which is earlier still compared to the attacker’s mark, or having used the trade mark before the attacker used or registered its mark are wrong in law. If the owner of the mark under attack has an earlier mark or right which could be used to oppose or invalidate the trade mark relied upon by the attacker, and the applicant for registration/registered proprietor wishes to invoke that earlier mark/right, the proper course is to oppose or apply to invalidate the attacker’s mark.
Reliance on the Absence of Confusion in the Marketplace
6. Parties are also reminded that claims as to a lack of confusion in the market place will seldom have an effect on the outcome of a case under section 5(2) of the Act.
7. In Compass Publishing BV v Compass Logistics Ltd  RPC 41 Laddie J held:
"22. It is frequently said by trade mark lawyers that when the proprietor's mark and the defendant's sign have been used in the market place but no confusion has been caused, then there cannot exist a likelihood of confusion under Article 9.1(b) or the equivalent provision in the Trade Marks Act 1994 ("the 1994 Act"), that is to say s. 10(2). So, no confusion in the market place means no infringement of the registered trade mark. This is, however, no more than a rule of thumb. It must be borne in mind that the provisions in the legislation relating to infringement are not simply reflective of what is happening in the market. It is possible to register a mark which is not being used. Infringement in such a case must involve considering notional use of the registered mark. In such a case there can be no confusion in practice, yet it is possible for there to be a finding of infringement. Similarly, even when the proprietor of a registered mark uses it, he may well not use it throughout the whole width of the registration or he may use it on a scale which is very small compared with the sector of trade in which the mark is registered and the alleged infringer's use may be very limited also. In the former situation, the court must consider notional use extended to the full width of the classification of goods or services. In the latter it must consider notional use on a scale where direct competition between the proprietor and the alleged infringer could take place."
8. (In Rousselon Freres et Cie v Horwood Homewares Limited  EWHC 881 (Ch) Warren J commented:
"99. There is a dispute between Mr Arnold and Mr Vanhegan whether the question of a likelihood of confusion is an abstract question rather than whether anyone has been confused in practice. Mr Vanhegan relies on what was said by Laddie J in Compass Publishing BV v Compass Logistics Ltd  RPC 41 at paragraphs 22 to 26, especially paragraph 23. Mr Arnold says that that cannot any longer be regarded as a correct statement of the law in the light of O2 Holdings Ltd v Hutchison 3G Ltd  RPC 16. For my part, I do not see any reason to doubt what Laddie J says...")
9. In The European Limited v The Economist Newspaper Ltd  FSR 283 Millett LJ stated:
"Absence of evidence of actual confusion is rarely significant, especially in a trade mark case where it may be due to differences extraneous to the plaintiff's registered trade mark.
Posted by: Jeremy Phillips @ 09.06
Tags: defences to oppositions and invalidations, United Kingdom,