CJUE confirms that Adidas may oppose the registration, as a Community mark, of parallel stripes placed on the side of sports shoes: the degree of attention of the average consumers in purchasing “sport shoes” (second episode)

On 17 February 2016 the Court of Justice of the European Union (Case C-396/15, full text here), confirmed a decision of the General Court (commented on this blog) upholding Adidas’ opposition against Shoe Branding’s Community trademark (“CTM”) application for two stripes positioned on a shoe.

Adidas

The General Court found that “the difference in length of the stripes arising from their difference in inclination are minor differences between the marks at issue that will not be noticed by the consumer with an average degree of attention and will not influence the overall impression those marks produce on account of the presence of wide sloping stripes on the outside of the shoe”.

The CJUE’s order confirmed the General Court’s finding that the trademark applied for was similar to Adidas’ 3-stripes mark on footwear, and that there was both a likelihood of confusion and dilution under Articles 8(1)(b) and 8(5) of the CTM Regulation.

The Court states that since the General Court held that the differences between two and three stripes and in the length of the stripes were not sufficient to affect the similarities arising from the configuration of the signs at issue, it did conduct the overall assessment requested by the law and, therefore, did not err in law.

Unfortunately, the Court dismissed the ground of appeal relating to the General Court’s observation that the degree of attention of the average consumer of sports clothing is low, as the appellant did not indicate which paragraphs of the judgement under appeal it disagreed with or in any other manner substantiate its argument.

As noted in our previous comment, while the Board of Appeal stated that the average consumer is accustomed to seeing geometric designs on shoes and pays attention to the details of “sport shoes”, the General Court judged that since “sport shoes” are everyday consumer goods, the relevant public is made of the average consumer with an average degree of attention.

We were wondering how to reconcile what the General Court stated in his decision with the principles stated in decisions which have admitted that, with respect to famous trademarks, the public knows almost every detail and, therefore, can more easily recognize ad distinguish imitations, so that the risk of confusion between the signs is more difficult to occur (see Claude Ruiz-Picasso and Others, T-185/02, 22 June 2004, confirmed by C-361/04, 12 January 2006).

Even if the case demonstrates that position marks and other non-traditional trademarks can be very effective tools for famous brand owners to use against those who copy their trade dress in the EU, we reiterate our doubts regarding the degree of attention of the average consumer when purchasing “sport shoes” or, better perhaps, “sneaker” (normally bought by boys or girls very detail-oriented).

Finally, it must be noted that according to this case-law the extent of the exclusive right granted to Adidas by a position mark is very strong. Too much ?

Order of the Court of 17 February 2016 in Case C-396/15, Shoe Branding Europe BVBA v. Adidas AG

Gianluca De Cristofaro

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