The saga of Der Grüne Punkt's trade marks
The Polish company Zakład Gospodarki Komunalnej Organizacja Odzysku Biosystem S.A. requested the Polish Patent Office to take a decision on the lapse of the right of protection for IR-653449 and IR-585713 trade marks registered for goods in the following Classes 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 11, 16, 20, 21, 24, 25, 29, 30, 32, 34, 35, 36, 39, 40, 42. Both trade marks are owned by Der Grüne Punkt Duales System Deutschland GmbH.
In support of its legal interest, Biosystem S.A. explained that it is one of more than 30 domestic companies that are specializing in recovery of certain categories of waste and like other market participants have the right to use the informational signs. While Rekpol S.A., being the sole licensee of Der Grüne Punkt Duales System Deutschland GmbH trade marks, is sending C&D letters to different businesses, including Biosystem S.A. According to Biosystem the questioned trade marks are spread and used among various companies and as the result of negligence of the owner and licensee these signs cannot fulfill the functions to designate the origin of a particular entrepreneur and have degenerated in respect of all goods and services and become a carrier of information in trade that the product bearing the mark shall be recovered.
The PPO decided that the Polish company had no legal interest (but only factual one) in all classes of goods since it produces none of the goods covered by the protection right (and it doesn't not sell them), but only provides services related to recovery of certain categories of waste. The PPO only agreed that Biosystem S.A. has shown legal interest in seeking the lapse of the disputed trade mark registration in part, on all services (i.e., services included in Classes 35, 36, 39, 40, 42). In this respect, the PPO considered that the interest can be inferred from the principle of freedom of establishment guaranteed in the provisions of Article 20 of the Polish Constitution and Article 6 of the Act of 2 July 2004 on Freedom of Economic Activity. Biosystem filed a complaint against this decision.
The Voivodeship Administrative Court in its judgments of 15 April 2008 case file VI SA/Wa 1959/07 and VI SA/Wa 1960/07 held that the definition of waste and recycling, shows that waste are the goods. Thus, in the view of the Court it was possible to trade in such goods. The court held that it may be that the scope of activities of Biosystem S.A. include those goods. Hence the need to examine the legal interest in the classes of goods. Legal interest shall be tested at the beginning of hearings, therefore, the VAC did not address the merits of the dispute. The Court ruled that the repealed decisions of the Polish Patent Office should not be enforceable.
The Voivodeship Administrative Court has also decided on other PPO's decisions with regard to IR-585714 and IR-653450 trade marks and held the same in its judgments of 24 April 2008 case file VI SA/Wa 1961/07 and VI SA/Wa 1962/07. All four cases went back to the Polish Patent Office.
Again, Biosystem argued that the characters have lost their distinctiveness, as they appear on millions of packages of goods from various manufacturers. The company cited a research institute Pentor that consumers do not identify these signs with a particular trader. They are applied by different manufacturers for packaging and currently only indicate that they are subject to disposal (safe for the environment). Biosystem claimed that information as such cannot serve as trade mark and the sign does not identify an entrepreneur.
Der Grüne Punkt-Duales System Deutschland and Rekopol noted that they were active in defending these trade marks against the lapse, because both companies warned many entrepreneurs, that Grüne Punkt trade marks cannot be used without a proper license. In this way, both companies care about the protection of the brand which excludes the possibility of the lapse due to lack of distinctive character. The Polish Industrial Property Law clearly states that the loss of the distinctive character must be the consequence of the owner’s acting or negligence.
The Adjudicative Board of the PPO in its decisions of July 2010 case no. Sp. 363/08 and case no. Sp. 433/08 and ruled on the lapse of the right of protection. The PPO agreed with the argument that Grüne Punkt trade marks became very popular in many markets, especially in Europe. According to the case file, there are around 95,000 licenses granted all over the world for their use, and for example, in Western Europe, they are placed on almost 91% of the packaging. Such method of placing trade marks on a variety of products that originate from different manufacturers does not meet the conditions of the genuine use of the mark in its function.
The Voivodeship Administrative Court in Warsaw in its two judgments of 9 March 2011 case file VI SA/Wa 2169/10 and case file VI SA/Wa 2171/10 dissmissed complaints filed by Der Grüne Punkt-Duales System and Rekopol. Both companies filed cassation complaints. The Supreme Administrative Court in its judgments of 21 November 2012 case file II GSK 1551/11 and case file II GSK 1646/11 dismissed them both which in consequence lead to the final lapse of both trade mark rights on the Polish territory.
Posted by: Tomasz Rychlicki
January 6th, 2013