16 September 2020TrademarksMuireann Bolger

French champagne makers celebrate TM victory at IPOS

In a win for French champagne producers, the  Intellectual Property Office of Singapore (IPOS) has ruled against the registration of a competitor’s trademark.

In March 2017, Chile-based Keep Waddling International International PTE sought to register an alcohol brand in goods class 33 for ‘Champengwine, Unique, Boutique, Sparkling Wines from Chile’.

In November 2018, French trade association, Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne and government agency Institut National de l’Origine et de la Qualité, opposed the registration of the mark.

This was based on four grounds of opposition: that the mark was deceptive; that the use of the mark would violate the Geographical Indications (GI) Act; the use of the mark will constitute passing off; and that the mark was applied for in bad faith.

These grounds were based on the alleged similarity between the GI “CHAMPAGNE” and the word element “CHAMPENG” in the application. When used in connection with wine, the “CHAMPAGNE” GI refers to wine adhering to detailed production requirements including originating from grapes of a specific type and grown in specific areas in France’s Champagne region, the opposition claimed.

The pre-hearing review was held on June 23, 2020, after which the opposition was heard on 6 August, 2020. IPOS hearing officer, Mark Lim, agreed with the applicant that consumers who drink or buy wines or sparkling wines are unlikely to be deceived into thinking that wines bearing the application mark originate from Champagne in France, and he found that the mark did not “contain or consist” of the “champagne” GI.

However, he found that the word “CHAMPENG” was undoubtedly selected because of its similarity to “champagne”. He concluded that the Chilean winemaker knew about champagne, which is well-known to consumers of wine,” and that “there was no evidence at all” that the choice of the prefix “CHAM” is an allusion to the method of production used to produce the sparkling wine sold under the mark.

Lim found that the opponents succeeded on the ground of bad faith, but failed on the other three grounds of opposition. He added that “bad faith” was a separate and distinct ground of opposition and that once bad faith was established, the application for registration of a mark must be refused “even if it was just a playful allusion with no intention to deceive or confuse consumers”.

He ruled that the registration mark was invalid and ordered that Keep Waddling pay 50% of its opponent’s costs.

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