3 July 2018Trademarks

EU court denies hotel chain’s trademark appeals

The EU General Court today dismissed two appeals against decisions denying trademarks applied for by hotel chain Vienna House (formerly known as Vienna International Hotelmanagement).

The court affirmed the European Union Intellectual Property Office’s (EUIPO) rejection of a word mark and a figurative sign, both of which feature the words ‘Vienna House’.

Vienna House operates a chain of hotels across Europe.

In August 2015, it applied for goods and services including travel agency services (class 39), provision of sports facilities (class 41) and accommodation (class 43).

The following January, an EUIPO examiner rejected the applications for services in class 43 and some services in class 39.

Vienna House filed two appeals against the examiner’s decisions but, in April 2017, the EUIPO’s Fourth Board of Appeal dismissed the appeals on the grounds that the marks were descriptive and devoid of any distinctive character for the services in question.

Again, Vienna House appealed.

At the General Court, the hotel chain argued that the word ‘house’ is entirely neutral and doesn’t create an association with tourist services so it could not be considered descriptive.

The chain also argued there is no recognised Viennese-style of hotel capable of giving rise to an association in the mind of the relevant public.

In outlining Vienna House’s arguments, the General Court said: “The association made by the Board of Appeal with the concept of 'Viennese coffee' is not convincing and the characteristics of a classic Viennese coffee cannot be transposed to the hotel sector. Moreover, there is also no 'Viennese style' in the field of architecture and construction.”

Agreeing with the EUIPO, the court found that the trademark, taken as a whole, would be understood by the average English-speaking consumer as meaning ‘Viennese house’.

“Next … it is possible to speak of a typically Viennese style in the field of the hotel and catering industry, represented in particular by Viennese cafes, and it seems implausible that a consumer assumes that accommodation referred to as ‘Vienna house’ has no specific ambience or atmosphere that has nothing to do with Vienna,” said the court, agreeing with the EUIPO.

Vienna House had also argued that the term ‘Vienna House’ doesn’t indicate the manner in which the services in class 39 (specifically the provision of information relating to travel and the services of a travel agency) are offered.

In class 43, the hotel chain claimed that, even assuming that the term ‘Vienna House’ is perceived to refer to accommodation services in Viennese houses, the “relation to those services is too imprecise and vague to describe an essential characteristic of these”.

The General Court disagreed, concluding that the Board of Appeal had found that each of the services can be “concretely and directly” linked to one of the potential meanings of the expression ‘Vienna house’.

Both appeals were dismissed and Vienna House was ordered to pay costs.

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