7 September 2018Trademarks

UKIPO puts a lid on tea trademark dispute

The UK Intellectual Property Office (IPO) has dismissed a trademark opposition in a wider dispute which has been brewing between two luxury tea companies.

Mark Bryant, of the IPO, delivered the decision yesterday, September 6.

French tea producer Mariage Frères applied to register ‘Sakura Sakura !’ as a trademark in classes 29 and 30, covering preserves, spices, and tea, in 2014.

TWG Tea Company, a UK-based provider of luxury tea and tea accessories, opposed the registration.

TWG argued that the mark lacks distinctive character, as the word ‘Sakura’—which refers to a Japanese cherry tree and its blossoms—is used as a descriptive term in the food industry.

Repetition of the mark and punctuation are insufficient to render the applied-for mark distinctive, TWG claimed.

TWG alleged that Mariage was aware of TWG’s blossom tea, which is marketed under the descriptive term ‘sakura’ and ‘sakura sakura’ in the UK, as well as many other traders using the word for the same purposes.

In his decision, Bryant noted that the two companies are in direct competition and have a “poor relationship”.

He said that they both have a UK presence, with TWG selling teas in luxury department store Harrods and Mariage selling in competitor retailer Selfridges. The tea companies are currently involved in “numerous proceedings” in the UK, he added.

Bryant noted that ‘sakura’ is “an apt word to describe tea and tea products” flavoured with cherry blossom.

“It would be appropriate that such a term is kept free for other traders who may wish to use it to designate a characteristic of their goods,” he said.

However, he added that duplication of the word and inclusion of the exclamation mark add “further characteristics beyond the mere descriptive element”.

The “tautology” of the mark creates a “spark of distinctive character” that the lone word ‘sakura’ does not have, Bryant said.

Bryant conceded that consumers will expect tea products (but not condiments) bearing the applied-for mark to contain, or be flavoured with, cherry blossom.

He said that this challenge can be overcome by adding an amendment to Mariage’s class 30 goods, to read “all being made or flavoured with, or containing cherry blossom”.

The IPO concluded that Mariage’s trademark application was made in good faith.

Bryant dismissed TWG’s appeal, except in relation to the class 30 challenge which is overcome by adding the amendment. As Mariage was “largely successful”, Bryant ordered TWG to pay £2,000 ($2,593) towards its costs.

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