5 March 2020TrademarksRory O'Neill

CJEU tells court to revisit halloumi dispute in win for Cyprus

The EU’s top court has handed a boost to Cypriot cheese makers in their efforts to block a trademark over its similarity to the name of halloumi cheese.

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled today, March 5, that a lower EU court committed an error of law when assessing the likelihood of confusion between ‘halloumi’ and a Bulgarian dairy company’s ‘BBQLOUMI’ mark.

The dispute arose in 2014 when Sofia-based M. J. Dairies EOOD applied to register an image featuring barbecued strips of cheese resembling halloumi, with the ‘BBQLOUMI’ text above.

The Bulgarian company’s mark covers classes 29, 30, and 43, including goods and services such as cheese and restaurants.

A Cypriot association, the Foundation for the Protection of the Traditional Cheese of Cyprus named Halloumi, intervened to oppose the mark.

According to the Cypriot body, which owns an EU collective mark for ‘Halloumi’, consumers were likely to think the Bulgarian company’s goods originated from Cyprus.

The EUIPO disagreed, considering the ‘Halloumi’ mark not distinctive enough to cause confusion among the public.

That assessment was upheld in September 2019 by the EU General Court.

But in today’s ruling, the CJEU ruled that the General Court had erred in its assessment of the likelihood of confusion.

According to the CJEU, the General Court should have examined whether the low degree of similarity of the marks is offset by the high similarity of the goods and services they cover.

The General Court has been instructed to revisit the case and re-examine the likelihood of confusion in line with the CJEU’s ruling.

Speaking to WIPR, Vanessa Marsland, partner at Clifford Chance who represented the Cypriot cheese makers, said she was “very pleased” with the ruling.

The CJEU’s ruling comes as another boost to Cyprus’ efforts to protect exclusive rights for halloumi.

Last month, the UK Intellectual Property Office restored the country’s UK trademark for the cheese, after it was invalidated due to an administrative error on part of the Cypriot government.

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More on this story

14 December 2021   The judgments handed down by the EU General Court relating to the IP safeguarding Halloumi cheese shows the limitations of relying on arguments based on collective marks, says Constantin Eikel of Bird & Bird.
21 January 2021   An association of Cypriot Halloumi producers has lost a long-running trademark battle at the EU General Court, which upheld a decision by the EU Intellectual Property Office allowing a rival to trademark a cheese product.
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