The scope of protection of a letter “B” as a mark cannot exclude from registration every other mark which contains that letter

By two twins-decision of 16 December 2014 (full text here) the OHIM Fourth Board of Appeal rejected oppositions against applications for registering two figurative marks consisting in a letter “B” inscribed in the shape of a bottle cap or placed in the centre of a wax seal, both for beers and alcoholic beverages. The grounds for the opposition were those laid down in art. 8(1)(b) CTMR: as the opponent was holder of a community figurative trade mark shaped by a letter “B” in the form of a rhombus, he claimed a likelihood of confusion between the signs. The Board argued that the distinctive character of a single letter on a rather simple geometrical shape is below and not enough to justify a likelihood of confusion. In principle, the public will not associate a single letter with an indication of origin. As a consequence, the scope of protection of a single letter as a mark cannot be such that it excludes from registration every other mark that contains that letter. The Board’s reasoning takes into account, at least implicitly, the public interest in keeping alphabetical letters free from private exclusive appropriation and gives a positive outcome in the direction of a public domain’s recognition and protection against misappropriation in trademark law.

Jacopo Ciani

Fourth Board of Appeal, 16 December 2014, R 1007/2014-4, Dibevit Import S.r.l. v. Berentzen-Gruppe Aktiengesellschaft