21 dec 2022
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MARLBORO tegen International Masis Tabak
Ongerechtvaardigd voordeel Marlboro's 'red rooftop'
Gerecht EU 21 december 2022; IEF 21221, IEFbe 3617; T‑44/22, ECLI:EU:T:2022:843 (MARLBORO tegen International Masis Tabak) Deze zaak betreft de welbekende ‘red rooftop’ die op de sigarettenpakjes van het merk Marlboro prijkt. Het bestreden teken is afkomstig van een Armeense tabaksfabrikant, International Masis Tabak. Het Gerecht EU (eerste kamer) bevestigt dat het bestreden teken, die bescherming zoekt voor tabak en sigaretten (klasse 34), oneerlijk voordeel geniet van de reputatie van het eerdere merk. Het Gerecht merkt in dat verband op dat het teken van Masis puur figuratief is, gegeven het feit dat het verbale element onleesbaar is. Het Gerecht oordeelt daarnaast dat de twee tekens een dominant element gemeen hebben, te weten, een gekleurde veelhoek in het bovenste deel van het teken. Ondanks hun verschil (in kleur), hebben zij een zelfde impressie, namelijk dat van een witte driehoek. Masis Tabak is het niet eens met deze conclusie, gezien zij in hun verzoek van inschrijving hebben toeglicht dat de lijnen in vorm van een driehoek juist lijken op de toppen van een berg. Het Gerecht oordeelt echter dat dit de perceptie van Masis betreft en niet die van het relevante publiek.
39 Fifth, as regards the Board of Appeal’s finding that the sign applied for is purely figurative given that its word elements are illegible, it must be borne in mind, as observed by EUIPO, that, according to the case-law, not only a sign which is actually impossible to read or decipher must be regarded as illegible, but also a sign which is so difficult to decipher, understand or read that a reasonably observant and circumspect consumer cannot manage to do so without making an analysis which goes beyond what may reasonably be expected of him or her in a purchasing situation (judgment of 2 July 2008, Stradivarius España v OHIM – Ricci (Stradivari 1715), T‑ 340/06, not published, EU:T:2008:241, paragraph 34).
45 Conceptually, in so far as the sign applied for represents only an abstract triangular geometric shape and only a limited, and therefore insignificant, part of the relevant public could perceive it at most as two mountains, the Board of Appeal was correct in finding that that sign did not convey any particular concept and, therefore, that a conceptual comparison of the signs at issue was not possible.
46 That conclusion cannot be called into question by the applicant’s reference to the description of the mark applied for provided in the application for registration, which indicates that the triangular lines almost resemble the peaks of a mountain range. According to settled case-law, the possibility for an applicant for an EU trade mark to attach to the application a description of the sign applied for provides information on the perception of the sign by the trade mark applicant, but not at all on its perception by the relevant public. The description of the sign does not, as such, affect the assessment of the conceptual similarity of the two signs at issue (see, to that effect and by analogy, judgments of 19 September 2018, Volkswagen v EUIPO – Paalupaikka (MAIN AUTO WHEELS), T‑ 623/16, not published, EU:T:2018:561, paragraph 40 and the case-law cited, and of 8 July 2020, Essential Export v EUIPO – Shenzhen Liouyi International Trading (TOTU), T‑ 633/19, not published, EU:T:2020:312, paragraph 38 and the case-law cited). The applicant’s argument in that regard is therefore ineffective.
65 In order to determine whether the use of the mark applied for takes unfair advantage of the distinctive character or the repute of the earlier mark, it is necessary to undertake a global assessment, taking into account all factors relevant to the circumstances of the case, which include the strength of the earlier mark’s reputation and the degree of distinctive character of the earlier mark, the degree of similarity between the marks at issue and the nature and degree of proximity of the goods or services concerned. As regards the strength of the reputation and the degree of distinctive character of the earlier mark, the Court has already held that, the stronger that mark’s distinctive character and reputation are, the easier it will be to accept that detriment has been caused to it. It is also clear from the case-law that, the more immediately and strongly the mark is brought to mind by the sign, the greater the likelihood that the current or future use of the sign is taking, or will take, unfair advantage of the distinctive character or the repute of the earlier mark (see judgments of 18 June 2009, L’Oréal and Others, C‑ 487/07, EU:C:2009:378, paragraph 44 and the case-law cited, and of 14 December 2012, Bimbo v OHIM – Grupo Bimbo (GRUPO BIMBO), T‑ 357/11, not published, EU:T:2012:696, paragraph 38 and the case-law cited).
66 In the present case, the Court observes that, in essence, the applicant merely states that the marks at issue are so different that this prevents the mark applied for from taking advantage of the repute of the earlier mark, given consumers’ brand loyalty for tobacco products. As is clear from paragraphs 54 to 56 above, the marks at issue have a certain similarity, which, together with the repute and enhanced distinctiveness of the earlier mark and the fact that the goods are identical or similar, enables the relevant public to establish a link between those marks.
67 Furthermore, in view of the evidence produced by the intervener before the Board of Appeal, the Board of Appeal was entitled to find, in paragraph 59 of the contested decision, that the rooftopshaped polygonal element of the earlier mark had been widely used, in different colours and for different ranges of cigarettes, so that consumers could be led to believe that the polygonal element of the mark applied for was merely a variant of that element of the earlier mark. Therefore, the goods marketed under the mark applied for could be perceived as being linked to the intervener, thus facilitating their promotion and marketing, without any financial compensation for the marketing effort expended by the intervener in order to create and maintain the image of its mark, as is apparent from the case‑ law cited in paragraphs 62 and 63 above.
68 Thus, taking into account all the factors set out in the case-law referred to in paragraph 65 above and recalled in paragraph 66 above, the Board of Appeal did not make an error of assessment in finding that there was a risk that the mark applied for would take unfair advantage of the enhanced distinctive character and the repute of the earlier mark.