Wednesday 28 October 2015

New Approach to Trademark Training

Do we need a new approach to continuing professional development for trademark professionals?
ITMA organises an excellent series of lectures. If you are a member and log in you can find recordings here.  There are certain perennial topics. These include last month's "Discussion of Recent OHIM cases'. UK decisions will get reviewed too as will European ones.

However, as the speaker pointed out applicant's argument at OHIM for equal treatment based on state of the register evidence always fail. There is no precedent system that applies either in OHIM  based only on their own decisions (even ones from their Boards of Appeal). The only things that counts as anything like English law precedent are guidance from the European Court of Justice. These days the first instance  decisions from the general court are so numerous as to be of little value as president in any subsequent argument. In short, we are wasting our time studying the individual Board decisions. What we need to study are the principles that can be derived from the decisions and these are neatly distilled in the guidelines published by OHIM. Therefore, wouldn't it be more sensible for us to be running CPD exercises based on how to apply the guidelines to our client's cases. In addition the Convergence programme is producing papers on common practice that will not just be reflected at OHIM but will percolate through to national offices leading to greater consistency if that is possible in a Europe where perceptions in different parts are as different as the languages they use, the food they eat and their various temperaments.

Once of the case discussed last week was sport on the money for the latest Convergence paper "Common Communication on the Common Practice of Distinctiveness – Figurative Marks containing descriptive/non-distinctive words" also available from the UK IPO here.

The case the speaker took was R2713/2014-2 for Yoga for - er yoga kit and classes etc
The decision is not final yet so there may be more to come.

Now it seems very common for Yoga studios to register YOGA plus figurative figleaf marks. Using a TMView search
The common practice is supposed to deal with situations where the figurative features lift the mark from being descriptive to being distinctive. The practice doesn't apply where other word elements are distinctive. So would my HEART and CURVESOME marks qualify to be considered under the the practice?

One of the important statements in the document is:
it should be noted that an applicant will not obtain exclusive rights on descriptive/non-distinctive words, when it is the figurative element that renders the mark distinctive as a whole. The scope of protection is limited to the overall composition of the mark. 
I wonder whether we are really making that clear to our clients when we suggest they adopt the figurative figleaf. Even so, the cluttered registers don't tell the searcher which element rendered the mark registrable. It isn't at all obvious that mattress and doughnut elements could be distinctive in certain parts of Europe and so would later generations know if HEART and CURVESOME are really the distinctive elements.

The document teaches us that figurative figleaf can work to give a combination distinction as a whole. It relies on BioID C-37/03. See - we are only going to take precedents from the ECJ to get at principles for the future. If you want to rely on typeface and font, it is going to have to be a fairly illegible mark. Looking at the examples in the document, none of my little pictures above is going to qualify on font.  Hey, but they are all coloured. The document is not encouraging. Even using multicoloured Google effects is not going to get you past the finishing post. The document goes on to consider punctuation marks and other symbols. These do not fare much better and we love yoga with its pipe signs is not going to be able to rely on those alone. In fact no distinctive examples are given in this category.

Most figurative figleaves are real graphic elements. The first thing we learn is that it has to be distinctive in itself and large enough to be seen as part of the mark as a whole. Surprisingly, they don't seem to have to hang together with the word elements to make it a whole. This tortoise going the other way seems to make the whole mark distinctive.  The Yoga marks come into what is going to be the most difficult category B.3 where the figurative element is a representation of or has a direct link with the goods and/or services.
The document suggests that C-265/00 Biomild, para. 39 and 40 are your best bet for defining the transitional ground, even though that is a case about a word mark.

The UK IPO was already agreed to implement the convergence practice recognising that it had a considerable influence in the drafting of the document and believes that it represents the standards our courts already apply. If you are going to argue a case before OHIM about the distinctiveness of a sign, best go straight to this document and use these principles rather than try and find precedents amongst the board of appeal series decisions that will be happily disregarded by the board when looking at your case.

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