IEFBE 2391

Gerecht EU over normaal gebruik en distinctief karakter van een 3D-vormmerk voor biscuitverpakking

Galletes Gullon

Gerecht 23 oktober 2017, IEF 17213; IEFbe 2391; ECLI:EU:T:2017:745 (Galletas Gullón). Merkenrecht. Vormmerk. In 2003 heeft Galletas Gullón een merkaanvraag ingediend voor een drie-dimensionaal vormmerk voor 'biscuits' waarin de kleuren blauw, groen, rood, wit, geel en zwart terug te vinden zijn. In 2014 heeft verweerder bij de Cancellation Division om herroeping van het merk verzocht. Verweerder stelde dat er geen sprake was van normaal gebruik van het merk. De Cancellation Division verwierp dit beroep. In beroep bij de Board of Appeal van het EUIPO werd het vormmerk van Galletas Gullón ingetrokken. Galletas Gullón gaat in beroep bij het Gerecht, welke de beslissing van het EUIPO vernietigt. Redengevend voor het Gerecht hiertoe is dat zij vindt dat het distinctieve karakter van het merk door de jaren heen niet is gewijzigd. Daarnaast oordeelt het Gerecht dat Galletas Gullón voldoende heeft aangetoond dat er sprake is van normaal gebruik van het merk.

31      It is apparent that the only elements which differentiate the registered mark from the mark used are, first, the white colour in the upper part of the packaging and, secondly, the stylisation of the element ‘gullón’ and of the letter ‘O’ and the number ‘2’ in the element ‘mini O2’.

32      Contrary to what the Board of Appeal found, those changes were not capable of altering the distinctive character of the registered mark. The changes made to the elements ‘GULLON’ and ‘mini O2’ in the registered mark, more specifically, the use of lower case rather than upper case, the presence of a green square rather than a green rectangle, the removal of a red band and the fact that the letter ‘O’ and the number ‘2’ in the element ‘mini O2’ are written in white with a blue outline rather than in blue, are minor changes, which are ornamental in nature, do not in any way stand out by virtue of their originality and do not therefore significantly alter the overall impression created by the registered mark.

33      That finding cannot be altered by the fact that the combination of colours ‘blue-yellow-blue’ on the packaging of the registered mark was replaced by the combination of colours ‘white-yellow-blue’ on the packaging of the mark as used. Contrary to what the Board of Appeal found, the combination of colours ‘blue-yellow-blue’ is not a distinctive or dominant element of the registered mark. In that regard, it must be borne in mind that, according to settled case-law, whilst colours are capable of conveying certain associations of ideas and of arousing feelings, they possess little inherent capacity for communicating specific information, especially since they are commonly and widely used, because of their appeal, in order to advertise and market goods or services, without any specific message (see judgment of 7 September 2016, Beiersdorf v EUIPO (Q10), T‑4/15, not published, EU:T:2016:447, paragraph 22 and the case-law cited), including goods such as those in question in the present case. It must added that those colours are rather commonplace. They are not, in themselves, so exceptional that they will be perceived by the consumer as particularly striking and will be remembered in connection with the goods in question. They will be understood more as elements for purely aesthetic purposes or as presentational features and not as an indication of the commercial origin of the goods. It follows that that change was not capable of altering the distinctive character of the registered mark.

58 Accordingly, it must be held that the invoices submitted, examined in conjunction with the other items of evidence, were sufficient to prove that the contested mark had been put to genuine use in order to create or preserve an outlet for the goods covered by the mark.

60      It is sufficient to bear in mind that the provision of accounting documents setting out sales figures or invoices is not necessary for the purposes of establishing genuine use of the mark. According to the case-law, the assessment of the extent of use entails a degree of interdependence between the factors taken into account. Thus, a low volume of goods marketed under the trade mark may be compensated for by a high intensity of use or a period of very regular use of that trade mark or vice versa (see judgment of 7 July 2016, FRUIT, T‑431/15, not published, EU:T:2016:395, paragraph 23 and the case-law cited). In certain circumstances, even circumstantial evidence such as catalogues referring to the mark, although it does not provide direct information as to the quantity of goods actually sold, may, by itself, suffice to show the extent of use in the context of an overall assessment (judgment of 15 July 2015, TVR Automotive v OHIM — TVR Italia (TVR ITALIA), T‑398/13, EU:T:2015:503, paragraphs 57 and 58).

62      First, it must be noted that, according to the case-law, genuine use of a mark requires that that mark be used publicly and outwardly (see judgment of 7 July 2016, FRUIT, T‑431/15, not published, EU:T:2016:395, paragraph 48 and the case-law cited). However, that outward use of a mark does not necessarily mean use aimed at end consumers. Genuine use of the mark relates to the market on which the proprietor of the EU trade mark pursues its commercial activities and on which it hopes to put its mark to use. Accordingly, taking the view that outward use of a mark, within the meaning of the case-law, must consist of use aimed at end consumers would effectively mean that marks used only in inter-corporate relations cannot enjoy the protection of Regulation No 207/2009. The relevant public at which marks are aimed does not comprise only end consumers, but also specialists, industrial customers and other professional users (see judgment of 7 July 2016, FRUIT, T‑431/15, not published, EU:T:2016:395, paragraph 49 and the case-law cited).

63      Secondly, it must be borne in mind that, according to the case-law, by having drawn up an invoice, the proprietor of the trade mark shows that the trade mark was used publicly and outwardly (see, to that effect, judgment of 10 September 2008, Boston Scientific v OHIM — Terumo (CAPIO), T‑325/06, not published, EU:T:2008:338, paragraph 47 and the case-law cited).

64      Furthermore, the numerous press articles and advertisements provided by the applicant make it possible to assume, with some degree of certainty, that consumers have directly or indirectly come into contact with the goods in question marketed by the applicant under the contested mark as used.