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Now in its twelfth year, Class 46 is dedicated to European trade mark law and practice. This weblog is written by a team of enthusiasts who want to spread the word and share their thoughts with others.

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Anthonia Ghalamkarizadeh
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Poland: OKPOL vs. VELUX

For those readers who, after reading the post titled "Poland: Lindt's problems with hares", still wonder what is the threshold for similarity of trade marks in case-law decided by the Polish Supreme Court, this Class46 team member has a short story about a recent judgment of the Polish Supreme Court of 23 October 2008, act signature V CSK 109/08 regarding the dispute over the word-figurative trade marks VELUX and OKPOL.

R-63259VKR Holding A/S from Horsholm sued Polish company OKPOL for trade mark infrigement and the delict of unfair competition. The suit was based on article 296(2)(iii) of the Polish Act of 30 June 2000 on Industrial Property Law - IPL - (in Polish: ustawa Prawo wlasnosci przemyslowej) of 30 June 2000, published in Dziennik Ustaw (Journal of Laws) of 2001 No 49, pos. 508, consolidated text on 13 June 2003, Dziennik Ustaw No 119, pos. 1117, with later changes:
Infringement of the right of protection for a trade mark consists of unlawful use in the course of trade of:
(iii) a trade mark identical or similar to a renowned trade mark registered for any kind of goods, if such use without due cause would bring unfair advantage to the user or be detrimental to the distinctive character or the repute of the earlier trade mark.
and article 3(1) the Polish Act of 16 April 1993 on Combating Unfair Competition - CUC - (in Polish: ustawa o zwalczaniu nieuczciwej konkurencji) Dziennik Ustaw (Journal of Laws) No 47, pos. 211, with later changes:
The act of unfair competition shall be the activity contrary to the law or good practices which threatens or infringes the interest of another entrepreneur or customer.
The district court ruled that the figurative element of the trade mark in question, and its characteristic composition, have more influence on consumer awareness and subconscious than does their verbal aspect and that it is therefore necessary to protect VKR Holding's brand, even if there are differences between the competing signs in verbal aspects. The court held that the signs are similar and that VELUX, being the renowned one, should benefit from the increased legal protection, as compared to "normal" i.e. the later mark of OKPOL company. The Polish company did not agree with such findings and filed an appeal complaint.
The Court of Appeal in its judgment of 3 October 2007, shared the conclusions and assessments of the court of first instance that VELUX brand has the status of a reputable and renowned trade mark, and that word-figurative sign OKPOL is similar to VELUX which brings the risk of association between these signs. The risk of confusion is determined by the dominant element that both marks share - the red rectangle. According to the Court there is a similarity between disputed trade marks because of the overall visual impression and there is no significant difference in the word characters. The Court of Appeal also agreed for the admissibility of granting the protection under article 3(1) of the CUC because OKPOL's action were in Court's oponion very parasitic. In the Court's view such behaviour was based on taking the advantage of VELUX's renown and should be deemed an act of unfair competition, as behaviour contrary to the principles of good practices, which should be based honesty in business.

The Polish company filed a cassation complaint before the Supreme Court of the Republic of Poland in which it asked three important questions:
(a) May a person try to prohibit the use of a registered trade mark, referring to the right of registration of another trade mark?
(b) Is the protection of well-known/renowned trade marks based on the article 296(2)(iii) of the IPL or may it be protected also with reference to the provisions of the Act on combating unfair competition?
(c) How far one person can monopolize the principle of creating trade marks, especially word-figurative trade marks in relation to commonly encountered combination of colours and shapes that are used on the market?
The Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts that the risk of association should be based on similiarity of figurative elements that both trade marks share. In court's opinion, the overall visual impression is the basis for creating a positive image of VELUX products and it decides on the risk of association, in consequence, enabling for the parasitic use of the mark by the Polish company and which also led to dilution of the distinctive character and reputation associated with the VELUX trade mark.

The court also ruled that, if the use of a registered trade mark infringes on a previously registered trade mark, the infringer should refrain from using his right of protection because it is not a subject to protection based on rules of the civil law. The Protection granted by the Polish Patent Office has only a formal aspect and it is governed by the administrative proceedings. In case of trade mark infringement it is up to the civil court to decide during the civil proceedings whether trade mark that was registered later should be afforded legal protection. There is no reason and no need to file a request for invalidation of the right of protection before the PPO.

In the answer to the second question the SC held that, according to article 1(2) of the IPL,
The provisions of this Law shall not prejudice the protection of the subject matter referred to in paragraph (1)(i) [i.e. the relationships in the field of inventions, utility models, industrial designs, trademarks, geographical indications and topographies of integrated circuits], provided for in other legal acts.
The protection of renowned trade marks is afforded by both acts.

As regards "monopolization", the SC ruled that the Polish company was banned from using a sign that associates to a specific sign used by the VKR Holding A/S. Accordingly no-one was granted a protection right to the principle of creating a trade mark.

Posted by: Tomasz Rychlicki @ 13.01
Tags: Famous marks, Polish courts, Polish Supreme Court, similarity of marks, threshold for similarity, unfair competition,
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MARQUES does not guarantee the accuracy of the information in this blog. The views are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of MARQUES. Seek professional advice before action on any information included here.

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