18 October 2019TrademarksSaman Javed

AG opinion dismisses Halloumi TM appeal

An Advocate General of Europe’s highest court has dealt a blow to the rights owner of a trademark for ‘Halloumi’.

In an  opinion issued yesterday October 17, Juliane Kokott for the  Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) dismissed an appeal from the Foundation for the Protection of the Traditional Cheese of Cyprus named Halloumi, which owns an EU collective trademark for ‘Halloumi’ in class 29 for cheese.

The dispute concerns the Foundation’s bid to prevent a Bulgarian company, MJ Dairies EOO, from acquiring a figurative mark for the word ‘BBQloumi’, featuring a plate of Halloumi.

The Foundation was previously unsuccessful in stopping the registration before the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), which found the ‘Halloumi’ trademark to have only low distinctive character.

Additionally, the EUIPO said it is unlikely the relevant public will establish a link between the producers in the Foundation and the producers of BBQloumi. The Foundation appealed the decision, but in September  2018, the General Court upheld the EUIPO’s earlier decision.

In its latest arguments, the Foundation said that as a collective mark, ‘Halloumi’ enjoys increased protection and has a higher distinctiveness.

The Foundation also argued that a likelihood of confusion exists between its own trademark and the applied-for mark due because the goods covered by both marks are identical or similar.

In her opinion, Kokott upheld the General Court’s ruling that the ‘Halloumi’ mark corresponds to the designation of a well-known Cypriot cheese.

As a result, it has only low distinctive character. Kokott said the General Court did not err in its finding that, in light of the differences between the ‘Halloumi’ trademark and figurative applied-or mark, there is not a likelihood of confusion.

Additionally, the AG said ‘Halloumi’ does not designate a specific place, but is merely associated with a place, namely Cyprus, at least in accordance with the previous case-law of the General Court.

In its rebuttal of the Foundation’s argument that its trademark has higher distinctiveness due to it being a collective mark, the AG said a collective mark is intended to guarantee collective commercial origin, but there are no grounds to assume that a collective mark necessarily enjoys particular distinctive character.

“Rather, just like all other marks, collective marks can have varying degrees of distinctive character,” the AG said.

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