Dienstag, 4. September 2007

Ferrero takes on UEFA over EM 2008 mark

Ferrero files cancellation against UEFA's EM 2008 mark

It looks as if Ferrero, a maker of chocolates (i.a. kinder products), has learnt its lesson from the FIFA World Cup in Germany in 2006. As can be seen from OHIM's website, FERRERO has recently (14 August 2007) filed a cancellation action against UEFA's EM 2008 word mark (CTM 004905411), registered for the marketing of the upcoming 2008 European Football Championships to be held in Austria and Switzerland. The mark is registered for a wide variety of goods, from dispensers of kitchen towels to vehicle lubrication. It is meant to secure the EURO 2008's official sponsors the exclusivity they pay for. However, in German speaking countries, EM stands for Europameisterschaft (European Championship). It is used as a generic abbreviation for any European championship from boxing to snooker. So EM 2008 could well be be considered a generic term for a European Football Championship by German (and Austrian) standards.

Ferrero's fight against the attempts by organizers of international sports events to secure extensive protection for their trademarks and logos has something of a tradition. In April 2006, when FIFA's enforcement of its Fußball WM 2006 mark (for Fußball-Weltmeisterschaft, German for Football World Cup) was at its nastiest, it obtained the cancellation of the mark before the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH). In a parallel decision, Ferrero also obtained the reversal of the Federal Patent Court's decision not to cancel the trademark WM 2006 (for Weltmeisterschaft 2006, or World Cup 2006) for most of the goods claimed, in particular for everyday consumer goods (I won't list them in detail here, the list of goods and services fills 10 of the decision's 37 pages...).

Not without a cause: Ferrero has a long tradition of including collectible photos of players of the German Mannschaft with two of its most popular chocolate products (duplo, hanuta) before important tournaments such as World Cups and European Championships, usually featuring the competition's name on it.

A very interesting side aspect of the story is that FERRERO is actually an official sponsor of the UEFA European Football Championships in Austria and Switzerland in 2008. So on the face of it, Ferrero may actually be acting against its own interests in cancelling the mark.

Another cancellation is pending against the UEFA's EURO 2008 mark (CTM 003410529), filed by Julius Erdmann Beteiligungsgesellschaft mbH based in Cologne.

Looking at UEFA's CTM portfolio and pending applications, one may be tempted to think that there are more marks that may face cancellation actions, if and when they are registered. Word marks such as POLAND UKRAINE 2012 (CTM 005760012), CROATIA HUNGARY 2012 (CTM 005759956) or ITALIA 2012 (CTM 005759725) , but also EURO 2012 (CTM 004327854) and EURO 2016 (CTM 005486899) look like invitations to file for cancellation.

As far as Germany is concerned, UEFA has not been lucky with its its EURO 200X mark. In 2004, the Federal Court of Justice turned down UEFA's infringement claim in an action against a manufacturer of balls featuring a EURO 2000 logo, albeit not UEFA's official logo. The decision was based on the grounds that the "EURO 2000" word element in UEFA's word/device mark EURO 2000 lacked distinctiveness. During the proceedings, UEFA had itself admitted that EM 2000 was generally understood to refer to the then ongoing European Football Championships and therefore descriptive. This argument does raise the question why UEFA is now applying for the above word marks, which do not appear to be any more distinctive for the respective editions of the same championship.

Let's hope that the European legal machinery will decide on the cancellation in time. When Ferrero obtained the cancellation of the FIFA mark in April 2006, it was almost too late for most companies to jump on the WM 2006 train, which had long left the station by then.

P.S.: Ferrero seems well prepared to fight this through, see here.

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