Gebrek aan onderscheidend vermogen van slogan
Gerecht EU 15 februari 2023, IEF 21270; Case T‐ 204/22 (applicant vs defendant) Een aanvrager heeft een EU-handelsmerkregistratie aangevraagd voor de zin 'other companies do software we do support' voor computer software adviesdiensten en technische ondersteuningsdiensten met betrekking tot computer software. Het Europees Bureau voor intellectuele eigendom (EUIPO) heeft de aanvraag afgewezen omdat de zin geen onderscheidend vermogen had en daarom niet als handelsmerk kon worden geregistreerd. De aanvrager ging in beroep, maar het Bureau van Beroep van EUIPO handhaafde de beslissing en oordeelde dat de zin geen onderscheidend vermogen had en slechts een promotionele slogan was. De aanvrager ging vervolgens in beroep bij het Gerecht EU, waarbij hij betoogde dat de zin onderscheidend was en dat het Bureau van Beroep geen blijk gaf van een juiste rechtsopvatting. Het Gerecht EU heeft de zaak onderzocht en heeft uiteindelijk de beslissing van het Bureau van Beroep bevestigd, waarbij werd geoordeeld dat de zin geen onderscheidend vermogen had en niet als handelsmerk kon worden geregistreerd. Het Gerecht EU legde uit dat de zin een duidelijke boodschap aan het relevante publiek overbracht en slechts een promotieformule of slogan was. Het Gerecht EU verwierp ook de argumenten van de aanvrager met betrekking tot de grammaticale structuur en opstelling van de zin, waarbij werd geoordeeld dat deze niet bijdroegen aan het onderscheidend vermogen.
24. The applicant disputes the Board of Appeal’s finding in that regard, submitting that the Board of Appeal did not sufficiently take into account the degree of interpretation which is necessary in order to arrive at a clear message with regard to the slogan which is the subject of the contested international registration. First, the applicant contends that, in order to arrive at the meaning which was relied on in the contested decision, the Board of Appeal, in essence, had to add several other words to the contested international registration, such as ‘but the Applicant’s services advise’, ‘the users of this’ or even ‘although developed by other companies’, which are not part of that registration and that that entails further mental steps and thoughts. Secondly, it submits that the word sign can have several meanings, as was, it claims, acknowledged by the Board of Appeal, and that all of those meanings also require the addition of words. Thirdly, the applicant claims, in essence, that the meaning of the contested international registration is even less evident because, in the present case, protection has been sought for a sign which is not written on a single line, but on two lines. Fourthly, it submits that the contested international registration leaves a number of questions open, inter alia the way in which the support is provided and the undertakings referred to by the expression ‘other companies’, and that it thus conveys a vague meaning and therefore a message that is capable of setting off a cognitive process in the minds of the relevant public, making the contested international registration easy to remember and, consequently, distinctive. Fifthly, the applicant contends that the grammatical structure of that slogan and the repetition of the verb ‘do’ contribute towards conferring distinctive character on the contested international registration.
37. First, as regards the applicant’s argument that the Board of Appeal acknowledged, in essence, that the contested international registration could have several meanings, but did not take account of the fact that those meanings are not obvious without the addition of other words, it must be pointed out that, contrary to what the applicant claims, the Board of Appeal did not agree with that argument. In paragraph 22 of the contested decision, the Board of Appeal confined itself to stating, correctly, that each of the interpretations suggested by the applicant would be perceived as a laudatory slogan which was devoid of any distinctive character. Furthermore, it must be pointed out that, as is apparent from paragraph 29 above, the contested international registration will be perceived by the relevant public as meaning that the holder of the international registration provides advice and support with regard to software which is created by other companies. It must therefore be held that the meanings suggested by the applicant, which diverge from that perception, are not immediately plausible or immediately perceptible to the average consumer.
41. The applicant submits that the contested international registration has sufficient distinctive character as regards the services in question. Relying on the case-law, it argues that the mere fact that a mark may serve as a laudatory slogan does not per se exclude it from also being capable of serving as a distinctive indication of commercial origin and that therefore it would be incorrect to impose higher requirements in relation to the distinctiveness of such a slogan than in relation to any other kind of mark.
44. The relevant public will therefore naturally perceive the expression ‘other companies do software we do support’ as a mere promotional formula or a slogan which is intended to highlight the positive qualities of the services which it is used to present and, therefore, of the provider of those services. In so doing, contrary to the applicant’s arguments, the sign at issue does not display any originality or resonance, requiring at least some interpretation by the relevant public, or setting off a cognitive process in the minds of that public, within the meaning of the case-law which has been referred to in paragraph 18 above, and is not capable of indicating to the consumer the commercial origin of the services in question.