Thursday, 6 October 2011

B&O loudspeaker shape cannot be registered as trade mark

The directive and the regulation both say you cannot register as a trade mark a shape that gives substantial value to the goods to which it is applied. In Case T-508/08 Bang & Olufsen v OHIM the General Court applied this rule to uphold the Office's refusal to register the shape of its speakers.

And quite right too. That provision has always caused me a little worry, as the whole point of applying a trade mark - any sort of trade mark - to goods is to enhance their value. A plain unmarked bottle of brown fizzy liquid is worth little: make the bottle curvaceous and apply a Coca-Cola (or Pepsi) label and it's a different story. But just because the law might be difficult to apply in extreme cases doesn't mean it is wrong.

The B&O case has a long history. Their application, filed in 2003, was refused as being devoid of any [sic] distinctive character. (This "devoid of any" formation grieves me - surely the "any" is redundant, as "devoid" means having none at all, without the need to reinforce it.) The Court then upheld their appeal, sending the case back to Alicante, where it was refused again but this time on the grounds that the shape gave substantial value to the goods. You have to acknowledge the applicants' persistence, because they set off on another expedition to Luxembourg to get that straightened out too.

Except that the court did not oblige:

The Court finds that in the present case the shape for which registration was sought has a very specific design. In the Court’s view, that design is an essential element of Bang & Olufsen’s branding and increases the value of the product concerned. Furthermore, it is apparent from extracts from distributors’ websites and online auction or second-hand websites that the aesthetic characteristics of that shape are emphasised first and that the shape is perceived as a kind of pure, slender, timeless sculpture for music reproduction, which makes it an important selling point. Accordingly, the Court holds that OHIM did not make any error in finding that, independently of the other characteristics of the product at issue, the shape for which registration was sought gives substantial value to that product.
The court also noted that it was perfectly OK for the Office to work through the absolute grounds for refusal one after the other, as they are independent. The result: no trade mark protection for the shape. I know it looks pretty distinctive, and B&O thrive on the appearance of their products, but the interface between design protection and trade mark protection is one that has to be guarded carefully. These same loudspeakers - the designs for them - can be protected for 25 years as designs, and if that is considered to be the right period of protection then whose interest would be served by permitting them to be protected by the trade mark system too, potentially for ever?

No comments:


blogger templates | Make Money Online