Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Failure to tell applicant about renewal of earlier trade mark infringes CTM rules

Lidl Stiftung v OHMI - Horno del Espinar (Castello) (Judgment) [2015] EUECJ T-715/13 (05 May 2015) is a weird case in the General Court. The German supermarket applied for a figurative trade mark in which the dominant element was the word, Castello, for various comestibles in classes 29, 30 and 31. It was opposed by the owner of a Spanish trade mark, also figurative and also with the dominant element being a single word, in its case Castelló. As I have learned when trying to communicate with Spanish people, that accent makes a world of difference (shifting the stress from the "e" to the "o"): I recall struggling to tell the Hertz representative from whom I had hired a car at Jerez airport the name of the village, Gaucín, to which I would be driving it, oblivious to the fact that the stress lay on the second syllable - and I was so proud of pronouncing the soft "c" correctly. I was also anxious because the Renault Grande Espace to which they had "upgraded" me (for which read, it's the only car we've got at the moment) was not much smaller than the village.

No-one, from OHIM and the Board of Appeal to the General Court, thought that they two were not similar: only Lidl tried to argue the contrary, and they were rather obliged to give that a whirl. Thank goodness for a bit of common sense somewhere in the EU trade mark system. But still, Lidl got what they wanted and the decision was annulled. How come? Simple, really, although the story is somewhat hidden in the turgid prose of the judgment (it is always so difficult to work out what happened, and why, in an EU case). It turned out that a failure by OHIM to provide Lidl wth information about the opponent's filings meant that the applicant was unable to mount its defence properly. (I think that's a fair summary). So, a procedural irregularity on the part of the office - hard to believe, with everything being so thoroughly automated in Alicante, but there it is, nothing is perfect.

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