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Apple vergelijkt appels met peren, en verliest op merkrecht

Apple heeft een belangrijke merkrecht zaak tegen Pear Technologies Ltd verloren. Er is geen overeenstemming tussen haar beeldmerk en dat van Pear. Hoe komt het gerecht tot dit oordeel?
Artikel | 31 januari 2019 | Joost Becker

Het Gerecht EU moest oordelen over de vraag of Apple kan optreden tegen de aanvraag van het beeldmerk van Pear Technologies Ltd. Eén van de vragen die in dat verband moet worden beantwoord is of er sprake is van merkrechtelijke overeenstemming.

Overeenstemming in het merkenrecht

Overeenstemming van een merkrecht met een ander teken is een van de vereiste om tegen zo'n teken (een ander merk) te kunnen optreden. Volgens vaste rechtspraak moet overeenstemming globaal beoordeeld worden:

the comparison must be made by examining each of the marks in question as a whole, which does not mean that the overall impression conveyed to the relevant public by a composite trade mark may not, in certain circumstances, be dominated by one or more of its components (judgment of 12 June 2007, OHIM v Shaker, C‑334/05 P, EU:C:2007:333, paragraph 41). It is only if all the other components of the mark are negligible that the assessment of the similarity can be carried out solely on the basis of the dominant element (judgments of 12 June 2007, OHIM v Shaker, C‑334/05 P, EU:C:2007:333, paragraph 42, and of 20 September 2007, Nestlé v OHIM, C‑193/06 P, not published, EU:C:2007:539, paragraph 43)

Merkrechtelijke overeenstemming?

Is er nu overeenstemming in deze zaak? Daarvoor wordt eerst de visuele vergelijking gemaakt tussen de appel en de peer:

In the present case, it is, admittedly, true that the figurative representation of the pear occupies an important place in the mark applied for owing to its central position and its size. However, the word element ‘pear’ cannot be considered negligible in the sense that the assessment of the similarity may be made solely on the basis of the figurative elements. Although the word element ‘pear’ is smaller than the representation of the pear, placed above it, and is written in a special type of font, it cannot escape the attention of the relevant public. Its size is large enough for the relevant public to notice it at first sight, which is reinforced by the fact that that word element is written in capital letters. In addition, the grey colour and the font used do not call into question the fact that the word ‘pear’ will be clearly legible for the relevant public
(...)
Taken as a whole, the earlier mark will therefore be perceived by the relevant public as representing an apple, with a bite taken out of it, with a leaf sitting on top.

Vergelijking van merken

Over de vergelijking met het beeldmerk van de peer oordeelt het gerecht specifiek:

In that regard, it should be borne in mind, first, that the marks at issue will immediately be perceived as depicting different fruits, secondly, that the shapes of the figurative elements and the fruits depicted are dissimilar overall, thirdly, that the pear is depicted in the mark applied for by a large number of squares of different sizes without an edge while the apple is depicted in the mark applied for by a solid image, fourthly, that the mark applied for contains no trace of a bite such as that present in the earlier mark and, finally, fifthly, that the word element ‘pear’ in the mark applied for has no equivalent in the earlier mark

Apple's argument dat zij een bekendheid heeft verworven telt strikt genomen niet mee bij de beoordeling van merkrechtelijke overeenstemming, aldus het gerecht: 'distinctive character of the earlier mark is a relevant factor for the assessment not of the similarity of the conflicting marks, but of the existence of a link between them in the mind of the public concerned (see, to that effect, judgment of 24 March 2011, Ferrero v OHIM, C‑552/09 P, EU:C:2011:177, paragraph 58)'

Het gerecht spreekt over 'clear differences between the concepts conveyed by the conflicting marks.' en dat 'the conflicting marks use images which do not depict the same object, but two different objects, namely an apple and a pear. It is common ground that the relevant public will perceive, without difficulty, that difference in the semantic content of the images contained in the marks at issue. Secondly, it must be noted that the marks do not share the concept of a ‘fruit with a bite taken out of it’ either, since, despite its abstract stylisation, the mark applied for evokes the idea of a full pear. Thirdly, it should also be observed that, due to the fact that the figurative elements placed above the apple and the pear will be perceived as being different, namely (i) a leaf in the case of the apple and (ii) a stem in the case of the pear, nor are they capable of conferring on the marks in question a degree of conceptual similarity.

Begripsmatig verschil

De merken zijn dus visueel gezien verschillend. Ook worden de merktekens conceptueel verschillend geacht, ook al gaat het bij beide merken om fruit:

that the conflicting marks will not be perceived as depicting two unidentifiable fruits, but rather as (i) an apple with a bite taken out of it, possessing a leaf, and (ii) a pear with a stem. In those circumstances, it is inconceivable that the relevant public displaying a high level of attention will use the term ‘fruit’ instead of ‘pear’ or ‘apple’ when referring to the conflicting marks. (...) wrong to take the view that the marks at issue could be regarded as being conceptually similar on the sole ground that the fruits which they depicted shared several characteristics in real life.

Conclusie over merkrecht Apple

De actie van Apple tegen het beeldmerk van Pear slaagt dus niet. Zij kan haar merkrecht niet inroepen.

Joost Becker, advocaat merkenrecht