Gerecht EU: geen verwarringsgevaar merk Athlon
Gerecht EU 15 oktober 2020, IEF 19695, IEFbe 3169; ECLI:EU:T:2020:488 (Decathlon tegen Athlon Custom Sportswear PC) Op 14 december 2016 heeft Athlon een aanvraag gedaan bij het Bureau voor intellectuele eigendom van de Europese Unie (EUIPO) voor de registratie van een Uniemerk, in de klassen 25 'kleding, hoeden' en 28 'sportartikelen- en apparatuur'. Op 14 april 2017 heeft Decathlon hiertegen oppositie ingesteld, op grond van artikel 41 van de Verordening (EG) nr. 207/2009. De oppositie wordt gebaseerd op het Unie-woordmerk Decathlon, dat geregistreerd staat sinds 28 april 2004, eveneens voor de klasse 25. In eerste instantie wordt de oppositie gegrond verklaard, omdat er sprake zou zijn van verwarringsgevaar in de zin van artikel 8 lid 1 sub b van de Verordening (EG) 2017/1001. De Kamer van beroep vernietigt echter deze beslissing. Hiertegen richt zich de vordering van Decathlon. Zij eist dat de beslissing op de oppositie in stand wordt gehouden. De vraag is of verwarringsgevaar bestaat tussen de twee merken. De vordering wordt afgewezen. Er zijn weinig visuele gelijkenissen tussen de merken en er is sprake van een weinig onderscheidend vermogen van het merk van Decathlon. Voor het algemene, relevante publiek valt er geen verwarring te duchten.
38 In the present case, in the light of the case-law cited in paragraph 37 above and of that cited in paragraph 29 above, it is necessary to reject the applicant’s argument that, in the mark applied for, the word element ‘athlon’ dominates and the figurative elements are negligible. The applicant treats the stylisation of the word element ‘athlon’ and the size of the figurative element on the left-hand side of that word as being of little importance. The stylised word element (‘athlon’) may also be read in a different way. Thus, the third letter ‘h’ may be perceived as the letter ‘r’, the penultimate letter ‘o’ as the letter ‘e’ and the last letter ‘n’ as the letter ‘r’. As regards the figurative element at the beginning of the mark applied for, it is true that, as the Board of Appeal acknowledges, it may be perceived as a stylised figurative element (a lemniscate) which is used in particular to represent the concept of infinity. In any event, in the light of the case-law according to which consumers will generally pay greater attention to the beginning of a mark than to its end, the initial part of a mark normally having a greater impact, in particular visually, than the final part (see judgment of 19 June 2018, Damm v EUIPO – Schlossbrauerei Au, Willibald Beck Freiherr von Peccoz (EISKELLER), T‑859/16, not published, EU:T:2018:352, paragraph 68 and the case-law cited), the Board of Appeal correctly noted that, from a visual point of view, the figurative element was not insignificant, since it formed the beginning of the mark applied for and, due to its size, it occupied a significant position in that mark and was not overshadowed by the subsequent stylised word.
42 In the present case, in paragraph 52 of the contested decision, the Board of Appeal noted that, in so far as the contested mark was to be perceived as containing the word ‘athlon’, the signs at issue had in common that element, which was fully contained in the earlier mark. However, it noted that the signs differed in several aspects because of the three additional letters ‘d’, ‘e’ and ‘c’ at the beginning of the earlier mark and, in the mark applied for, the stylisation of the word ‘athlon’, the figurative element at the beginning of the mark and the words ‘custom sportswear’. In the light of its analysis of the distinctive and dominant elements of the marks (see paragraphs 30 to 32 above), the Board of Appeal found that, visually, the differences dominated and that the marks at issue had only a very low degree of similarity.
48 In the present case, in paragraph 54 of the contested decision, the Board of Appeal considered that the stylisation of the word ‘athlon’ and the figurative element preceding it did not play any role, since they were not pronounced. According to the Board of Appeal, the signs coincide phonetically in so far as the mark applied for is perceived as containing the word ‘athlon’. However, the two signs differ with regard to the sound of the letters ‘d’, ‘e’ and ‘c’ at the beginning of the earlier mark. As regards the words ‘custom sportswear’, the Board of Appeal inferred from its analysis of the distinctive and dominant elements of the marks (see paragraphs 30 to 32 above) that those words are likely to be omitted when the mark is referred to. It concludes that the signs are phonetically similar to an average degree.
56 In the present case, the Board of Appeal was right in considering that, for that part of the relevant public comprising the English-speaking public, the word ‘decathlon’ would be associated with a competition in which athletes compete in various different sporting events. It was also right in stating that the word ‘athlon’ meant ‘a contest’ in Greek and that part of the relevant public might associate that word with sports competitions, as the element ‘athlon’ is a commonly used suffix, in particular in English, in relation to athletics events, the number of which is indicated by a prefix. It correctly inferred from that that the words ‘decathlon’ and ‘athlon’ were inherently descriptive or allusive for the athletic goods at issue.
76 That finding cannot be invalidated by the applicant’s argument that the earlier mark is the ‘umbrella brand’ for its other marks. In so far as that argument should be understood as invoking the existence of a family of marks, it cannot be accepted, in the absence of a common characteristic which makes it possible for the applicant’s marks to be regarded as part of a family or series of marks (see, to that effect, judgments of 13 September 2007, Il Ponte Finanziaria v OHIM, C‑234/06 P, EU:C:2007:514, paragraph 62, and of 23 February 2006, Il Ponte Finanziaria v OHIM – Marine Enterprise Projects (BAINBRIDGE), T‑194/03, EU:T:2006:65, paragraph 123). There is no common characteristic between the earlier mark and, for example, the marks KALENJI, DOMYOS, ARTENGO, QUECHUA and TRIBORD, mentioned by the applicant.
94 In the present case, the goods at issue, namely athletic clothes and hats, are in a sector in which visual perception of the marks will generally take place prior to purchase. Consequently, the visual aspect is of greater importance in the global assessment of the likelihood of confusion (see, to that effect, judgments of 14 October 2003, Phillips-Van Heusen v OHIM – Pash Textilvertrieb und Einzelhandel (BASS), T‑292/01, EU:T:2003:264, paragraph 55; of 18 May 2011, IIC v OHIM – McKenzie (McKENZIE), T‑502/07, not published, EU:T:2011:223, paragraph 50; and of 24 January 2012, El Corte Inglés v OHIM – Ruan (B), T‑593/10, not published, EU:T:2012:25, paragraph 47).