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An association of Cypriot cheese producers has failed to cancel a Greek dairy maker's trademark for ‘Halloumi Vermion grill cheese’.
The EU General Court this week rejected an appeal from the foundation responsible for protecting rights to the name of one of the country’s most popular exports.
The decision means Greek company Filotas Bellas & Yios retains its EU trademark, which covers a logo for its ‘Halloumi Vermion grill cheese’. Trading as Belas, the cheesemaker is based in Alexandreia, near the Vermio mountains in northern Greece. Its product range includes a number of ‘Vermion’ cheeses, including smoked and hard cheeses.
Its trademark was the subject of a cancellation challenge from the Foundation for the Protection of the Traditional Cheese of Cyprus named Halloumi, the Cypriot association which has been active in policing use of the ‘Halloumi’ name through the trademark system.
The foundation owns an EU collective mark for ‘Halloumi’, meaning only its members can use it, in line with the stringent production requirements outlined in Cyprus’ protected designation of origin for the country’s signature cheese.
But the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) found that Belas’ mark was unlikely to confuse customers, given the significant differences between it and the foundation’s Halloumi sign.
This was underlined by the ‘weak distinctive character’ of the Cypriot foundation’s mark, which the EUIPO considered to be largely descriptive of the goods and services it covered.
The EU General Court has now sided with the EUIPO’s findings, ruling this week that the Cypriot farmers’ mark has a “low degree of inherent distinctiveness and, secondly, the applicant has not demonstrated the existence of enhanced distinctiveness acquired through use”. Given these shortcomings, “the level of protection conferred by the [Halloumi] mark must itself be low,” the court found.
The decision comes as a blow to the foundation, which values its trademark highly and has been active in enforcing it across Europe. The association has had greater success in recent months, successfully blocking the use of a Bulgarian company’s ‘BBQloumi’ mark. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled last March that the General Court was incorrect in finding that there was no likelihood of confusion between the marks. The foundation could yet appeal against the General Court’s latest ruling on Belas’ mark as well.
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Halloumi, Vermilion grill cheese, EU General Court, CJEU, Cyprus, dairy, EUIPO