EU-woordmerk terecht nietig verklaard
Gerecht EU 30 november 2022; IEF 21133, IEFbe 3590; T‑678/21, ECLI:EU:T:2022:738 (Mendes tegen EUIPO) Op 20 juni 2017 heeft interveniënte, Actial Farmaceutica, bij het EUIPO een vordering tot nietigverklaring ingesteld van het EU-merk dat was ingeschreven ingevolge een door Mendes op 29 maart 2013 ingediende aanvraag voor het woordteken VSL3TOTAL. Actial Farmaceutica heeft namelijk eerder het EU-merk VSL#3 ingeschreven. Op 26 mei 2020 heeft de nietigheidsafdeling de vordering tot nietigverklaring toegewezen. De kamer van beroep oordeelt dat er gevaar is voor verwarring. Het Gerecht oordeelt dat de betrokken tekens visueel en fonetisch bovengemiddeld overeenstemmen, begripsmatig stemmen de tekens weinig overeen. De kamer van beroep heeft geen beoordelingsfout gemaakt door te concluderen dat er bij het relevante publiek gevaar voor verwarring tussen de conflicterende merken bestaat.
53. Those arguments are not capable of calling into question the Board of Appeal’s assessment of the visual similarity of the marks at issue, which must be confirmed. As is stated in paragraph 50 above, the ‘#’ symbol is non-distinctive and is not such as to dominate the image the public retains of the earlier mark. In addition, as regards the length of the contested mark, the Board of Appeal rightly pointed out that the length was mainly due to the presence of the word ‘TOTAL’ in capital letters, which was non-distinctive, and that, consequently, the difference in length between the signs was not to be overestimated.
57. The Board of Appeal’s assessment that the signs at issue display an above-average degree of phonetic similarity must be upheld. The applicant provides no evidence to challenge the Board of Appeal’s finding that the pronunciation of the signs at issue coincides in their distinctive elements, namely ‘VSL’ and ‘3’. The symbol ‘#’ constitutes a non-distinctive element that may be likened to the exclamation mark and will probably not be pronounced by the relevant public. Therefore, the applicant’s argument that the earlier mark would be pronounced ‘vslnumberthree’ and not ‘vslthree’ must be rejected. Similarly, the word ‘total’, at the end of the contested mark, is non-distinctive, with the result that, as the Board of Appeal observed in paragraph 50 of the contested decision, it is not, in principle, such as to give rise to a significant difference in pronunciation.
61. The Board of Appeal’s assessment that the signs at issue display a low degree of conceptual similarity must be upheld. The applicant’s argument concerning the meaning of the word ‘total’ is not such as to call into question the Board of Appeal’s abovementioned assessment. As stated in paragraph 49 above, the word ‘total’ is a non-distinctive element and therefore cannot create a relevant conceptual difference.
66. Having regard to all the relevant elements taken into account by the Board of Appeal in the overall assessment of the likelihood of confusion between the marks at issue and, in particular, the identity of the goods at issue (see paragraph 32 above), the high or higher than average level of attention of the public concerned (see paragraphs 24 to 27 above), the above-average degree of visual and phonetic similarity of the signs at issue, the low conceptual similarity (see paragraphs 54, 58 and 62 above) and the average inherent distinctiveness of the earlier mark (see paragraph 36 above), the Board of Appeal did not make an error of assessment in finding that a likelihood of confusion exists between the marks at issue on the part of the relevant public.