A ballsy trademark ruling

SodKGaA & Henkel AG filed a series of Israel trademark applications (Nos.  258658, 258797, 258798 and 259500 as shown alongside.258658

The marks cover Bleaching preparations and other substances for laundry use, rinsing agents for laundry and tableware, stain removing preparations; cleaning, polishing, scouring and abrasive preparations, chemical agents for cleaning metal, enameled sheet metal, wood, cork, porcelain, ceramic, glass, plastic, leather and textiles; spot remover; soaps not for personal use, perfumery, essential oils in class 3, “Disinfectants and deodorants other than for humans and animals”. In class 5, and Sponges, brushes, cleaning cloths, cleaning purposes, hand-operated cleaning appliances, devices for dispensing sanitary cleaning and fragrance products, partially with the addition of disinfectant, included in class 21.

The Israel Trademark Department refused to register the marks on the grounds that they lacked inherent distinctiveness as indication of source, since they were the shape of the products themselves. The marks were also refused under Section 8(b) of the Ordinance 1972, as not having acquired distinctiveness through use.

The Applicant claimed that the marks are registerable since they serve in practice as a trademark, have acquired distinctiveness through use, and the choice of shape is not a result of real aesthetic or practical considerations. The Applicant requested a hearing, and submitted the following evidence:

  • An opinion by Mr Oshik Roshnik, marketing consultant, who held a public survey regarding how well known the marks were. Mr Roshnik attended the hearing and the survey and his conclusions are detailed below.
  • An affidavit from Ms Danielle Rabinowitz who is the product manager for Henkel Sod ltd, which is fully owned by the Applicant. Her testimony affirmed the sales in Israel and abroad and the investment in advertising and promotional activity. Ms Rabinowitz also attended at the hearing.
  • An Affidavit of Ms Cecile Leroi the International Marketing Manager of the Applicant, who testified regarding sales.

A large quantity of marketing material was appended to the affidavits.

sod balls.jpg

From the evidence it appears that the products are sold in Israel in blister packs that have transparent fronts. The mark Sod appears clearly on the packaging, which is the brand for these and other products of the Applicant in Israel. The Sod mark is recognized as being a leading brand in Israel.

juggling four balls

The Applicant claimed that since January 2014 they have invested 15 million shekels in advertising and marketing in various telecommunication channels, including point-of-sale. As a result of this intense marketing, some 6 million units have been sold, which is 30% of the market. These statistics support the Applicant’s contention that the marks have acquired distinctiveness.

The Applicant’s legal counsel emphasized that the marks were registered in a number of countries, including the EUIPO. The Applicant is also prepared for the mark to be registered under Section 16.

Discussion

toffiffee

The tests for validity of a trademark registration for the shape of an article was given in the Supreme Court ruling 11487/03 August Storck KG vs. Alfa Inuit Food Products LTD, of 23 March 2003. These tests are summarized in Circular 033/2016 Trademarks: Emphasis on Examining trademarks from 15 December 2016 as follows:

  1. The requested shape has to serve as a trademark in practice
  2. The requested shape cannot be significantly aesthetic or practical.
  3. The shape has acquired distinctiveness through use

This topic has been widely discussed in the case-law and literature in Israel and abroad. The tests have been largely adopted due to comparative law, and so we can use foreign rulings to aid us in coming to a conclusion.

Nevertheless, the Deputy Commissioner does not consider that the applied for mark fulfils the Supreme Court’s criteria.

The Mark Does Not Serve As a Trademark in Practice

The question asked in this context is whether the public and the applicant see the shape of the mark separately from other marks that are applied to the product to indicate the source, thereby serving as trademarks. As clarified in Berkeley “Kerly’s Law of Trade Marks and Trade Names“, 15th ed. (2011) p. 197, from a UK decision regarding the registerability of the shape of a container:

The relevant question is not whether the container would be recognised on being seen a second time, that is to say, whether it is of memorable appearance, but whether by itself its appearance would convey trade mark significance to the average customer.”

The things are stated regarding containers, but this is also true regarding the shape of the products themselves, since these are not generally considered as being trademarks by the public, and the packaging includes the well known word mark Sod as a trademark indicating the source of the goods. It is true that sometimes a single object will have more than one trademark on it, each being independently registerable. However, in such cases it is difficult for the manufacturer to demonstrate that the public afford each element weight as a trademark: See J. Thomas McCarthey in McCarthey on Trademarks and Unfair Competition (2011), pages 7-12:

“When a label or advertisement contains a cluttered morass of claimed marks in many words, slogans and designs, no one of these things is likely to make a significant trademark impression on customers. If a given designation is a trademark, that should be immediately evident to the ordinary buyer. If it takes extended analysis and legalistic argument to attempt to prove that a designation has been used in a trademark sense, then it has not.”

kitkatThe need for the public and the manufacturer to rely on the shape of the product as an indication of the source of the product is required for it to be registerable has been discussed recently in the UK decision [2017] EWCA Civ 358 Société des Produits Nestlé SA  v. Cadbury UK Ltd. (Kit Kat). In this ruling, the court affirmed the ruling of two lower courts that the shape of the KitKat snack bar is not registerable. In that case, the issue of the burden of proof for registering a product shape was referred to the CJEU:

The judge thought that the answer to this question was not clear and depended upon what was meant by “use of the mark as a trade mark”. As he put it: does it require the applicant to show that, as a result of the use of the mark, consumers rely on the mark as a trade mark, or is it sufficient that consumers recognise the mark and associate it with the applicant’s goods?”

The UK court considered that the European Court’s position was that the public have to rely on the product shape as a source of origin, and not merely to recognize the product shape:

“Accordingly, I agree with the judge that it is legitimate for a tribunal, when assessing whether the applicant has proved that a significant proportion of the relevant class of persons perceives the relevant goods or services as originating from a particular undertaking because of the sign in question, to consider whether such person would rely upon the sign as denoting the origin of the goods or services if it were used on its own. Further, if in any case it is shown that consumers have come to rely upon the mark as an indication of origin then this will establish that the mark has acquired distinctiveness”

Deputy Commissioner Jacqueline Bracha does not consider that the survey and publicity material in the present case proves the Applicant’s contention.

In all cases, the word mark Sod clearly appears in the publicity material, and the advertisements all include the word Sod a large number of times. So it does not appear that the applicant is relying on the visual appearance of the product to indicate the origin thereof.

The extent in which the shape of the package is capable of serving as a trademark depends on the degree that they are different from that typical in the field. See for example, Israel Trademark Application No. 174402 Diageo North America, Inc. from 13 April 2011. The Applicant notes that they chose the mark to distinguish themselves from their competitors. The Applicant submitted a lot of material that shows that cleaning materials intended to be hung in the toilet bowl come in different shapes, however all of these include a hook and a perforated plastic case so that they can serve their function of hanging over the rim and allowing water to reach the cleaning material on flushing. The product in question is not sufficiently distinctive that it is recognized by the public as being a trademark. From the material submitted and from a personal search of the Internet it appears that such products come in various shapes and sizes including five flowers, three crescents three rectangles and so one. Most of the products are coloured and two colours are combined in a single product… Many are sold in transparent packages that have the manufacturer’s logo on the upper part.

The mark has not attained distinguishing character through use

There is a connection between the question of whether a mark serves as a trademark in practice and whether it has acquired distinctiveness. The Applicant has to demonstrate that through sales, etc., there is public awareness of the mark.

First and foremost, the Applicant has to show that the goods have a reputation, meaning that the public identifies the goods with the applicant or at least with a specific source, even if not identifying the applicant by name.
….
Continuous significant usage is not what is important, but rather the type of use:  if it is a use that identifies the product with the Applicant, see Appeal 18/86 Israel Venetian Glass Factory vs. Les Verries de Saint Gobain p.d. 45(3) 224, 238.

To prove a relationship between the product and supplier, the Applicant submitted Mr Roshinak’s survey. The questions were directed to respondents who admitted to being the purchasers of domestic hygiene goods for their homes. The respondents were first asked if they were familiar with the products for which the trademarks were sought (specifically the product having Israel TM Application No. 258658). It is noted that the respondents were not asked if they had purchased the product and so those who had seen the advertisements also responded positively and some 67% were familiar with the product. Mr Roshnak explained at the hearing that this is significant. In this regard, it is noted that the publicity campaign was conducted close to the survey and may well have affected the results. See Complaint 31706-01-12 Dan Design Center ltd vs. B.R.A.P. Projects ltd 19 June 2012.

survey3.JPGThose respondents  that responded positively to the first question were asked if the product was known in Israel. The Deputy Commissioner considers this is less relevant since it surveys what the respondents thought and not how well known the product was. In the next stage, the respondents were asked if they were familiar with other products of the same manufacturer and 65% were unaware of any other products or were not sure in their response.

The Deputy Commissioner considers this the most significant part of the survey. The purpose of a trademark is to link a product with other products of the same supplier. See Seligsohn Trademark Law and Similar Law 1973 page 1. If this connection does not exist, the shape of the mark does not serve as a trademark in practice.

In this instance, the majority of the public does not consider the product as associated with a particular supplier and this is clear from the fact that they did not know if the supplier sold other goods. In other words, the public surveyed were unaware of the source of the goods and did not connect the balls with other products marketed under the Sod mark. Since the Applicant acknowledges that Sod is a well known mark associated with a wide range of hygiene products, had they associated the product with Sod, they would have made a connection and mentioned other products.

The Applicant claimed that the acquired distinctiveness exists where the public associate a product with some supplier and not necessarily with a supplier by name. This is true. The principle was established in Appeal 18/86 Israel Venetian Glass Factory vs. Les Verries de Saint Gobain p.d. 45(3) 224, 238. However, in this instance, it is claimed that Sod is a ‘quality brand’ and so it is not reasonable to claim that the majority of the public do not know the brand. Furthermore, from the response to this question, it appears that the majority of the respondents do not relate the product with ANY supplier and for this reason cannot answer whether the supplier supplies additional products.

survey.jpgIn the final survey, the respondents were asked who manufactures or markets the product. This was a multiple choice question with the options Henke, Sod, some other supplier SPECIFY and do not know/not sure. This is a closed-ended leading question similar to that discussed in Opposition 112645 Mei Zach (Clear Water) Shlomo Zach vs. Teneh Industries 1991 ltd from 12 July 2007. Two of the four answers were correct. The others required the respondents to admit to not knowing or to suggest an alternative themselves. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that most respondents answered correctly. Furthermore, the respondents who answered correctly were not even required to remember the manufacturer/supplier’s name themselves….

leading questionMr Rohnak was asked about this during the hearing and responded that respondents are not ashamed to answer that they do not know, and so their choosing a correct answer is significant and indicates knowledge. Mr Roshnak did not think that wording the question differently and giving names of other manufacturers of hygiene products would have led to a different result. This response is speculative and is beyond his competence since it does not relate to making surveys and drawing results but rather to anticipating responses to questions not asked. The fact that most respondents elected “Sod” and not “Do not know” certainly raises the suspicion that the respondents answered that way as the question led them to do so, or because the way the survey was constructed led them to believe that this was the desired response.

Deputy Commissioner Bracha concludes that the survey does not prove that the public identifies the product with the source. Furthermore, it really indicates a lack of identification with any source.

By way of comparison, in the KitKat ruling, most respondents recognized KitKat as being an image of the snack without the name being suggested to them. Nevertheless, the court held that the manufacture does not rely on this recognition and the shape is not eligible for registration. In this instance, the public could not identify the source without leading questions that posed the correct response.

In evidence of acquired distinctiveness, the Applicant submitted an affidavit of the product manager. It is not denied that the Applicant invested large sums in promoting the product to the result that they captured a significant 30% of the market. However, this does not show that the public identifies the product with the supplier without the Sod mark clearly shown.

In light of the above, having concluded that the mark does not have distinguishing characteristics, it cannot be registered under Section 16 either.

The mark is therefore refused.

Ruling by Ms Jacqueline Bracha re 4 Balls Shape Mark to KGaA & Henkel AG 258658, 258797, 258798 and 259500, 18 December 2018.



Categories: Intellectual Property, Israel, Israel IP, Israel Patent Office Rulings, Israel Trademark, trade dress, trademarks, Uncategorized, החלטת רשות הפטנטים, מדגם, סימן מסחר, סימני מסחר, סמני מסחר, עיצוב, קניין רוחני, קנין רוחני

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