CJEU: Protectability of three –dimensional shape marks

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The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has given a preliminary ruling on questions relating to three-dimensional trademarks forwarded to it by the Dutch courts (Judgment dates 18 September 2014; C205/13).

Background of the Case and Subject Matter

Peter Opsvik designed a chair for children called ‘Tripp Trapp’. The design allows the chair’s shape to accommodate a baby’s growth into childhood. The design of that chair has won a number of prizes and has been displayed in museums. Since 1972, ‘Tripp Trapp’ chairs have been marketed by Stokke, particularly on the Scandinavian market and — since 1995 — on the Dutch market. In 1998, Stokke applied to register the form of the Tripp Trapp chair as a three-dimensional trademark at the Benelux Trade Mark Office.

 

The German company Hauck GmbH introduced similar chairs named “Alpha” and “Beta” to the market. Subsequently the Stokke A/S brought a lawsuit against Hauck GmBH claiming that the chairs infringed their trademark and copyright, but Hauck filed a counterclaim to delete the trademark.On appeal, the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden (Supreme Court of the Netherlands) referred questions to the CJEU for a preliminary ruling on the laws on trademark registration and the grounds for refusal surrounding the shape of a product.

 

Preliminary Ruling

In its judgment the CJEU ruled that the grounds for refusal of shape marks could extend to shapes that are inherent to the generic function of a product and that the grounds for refusal relating to shapes giving substantial value to the goods could apply to products possessing several characteristics, where each characteristic could give the product substantial value. Therefore, the Hoge Raad der Nederlanden could take both grounds for refusal into account, but, may not apply them in combination. A final ruling on the case will still be taken by the Supreme Court in the Netherlands which has the jurisdiction on deciding over the validity of the two-dimensional trademark of the Trip Trap chair.