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EU General Court Upholds L’Oréal’s trade mark

Post Time:2024-03-04 Source:europa.eu Author: Views:

In a recent judgment of 21 February 2024 (T-765/22), the General Court of the European Union dealt with a trade mark dispute between L'OREAL (UK) Limited and AZALEE COSMETICS.

'L’Oréal (UK) Limited, the well-known cosmetics company, opposed Azalee Cosmetics' application for registration of the EU figurative mark "LA CREME LIBRE" (with the word LIBRE appearing in a mirrored way under the word CRÈME”) on the basis of potential conflicts with L’Oréal's earlier trade marks, including its EU trade mark No. 17986471 “LIBRE”, registered for goods in Class 3 of the Nice Classification which includes cosmetic and toiletry products. The disputed mark was applied for cosmetic goods and services in Classes 3, 21, 35 and 44 covering a wide range of goods and services such as cosmetics products and utensils, beauty treatments and advice, hygiene, body aesthetics and make-up, among others. The EUIPO’s Opposition Division and Board of Appeal accepted L’Oréal’s opposition and had rejected Azalee’s trade mark application.

The key issues before the General Court were whether a likelihood of confusion between the conflicting marks could be established because of their similarity leading the relevant public to wrongly associate the goods or services of the parties.

Firstly, the Court held that even though all the goods and services included in classes 21, 35 and 44 for which the “LA CRÈME LIBRE” trade mark was applied were not covered specifically by L’Oréal’s earlier trade mark did not preclude a similarity between the goods and services. Indeed, it is well established that where goods and services are competing, complementary or have similar purposes, they can be found to be similar for the sake of identifying likelihood of confusion between two marks. In this sense, there was indeed similarity between the goods and services covered by the two marks since, for example, cosmetics utensils covered in Class 21 are complementary to cosmetic products covered in Class 3: you need the former to use the latter!

In relation to visual similarity between the signs, the Court held that there was a low degree of visual similarity between the conflicting marks. This conclusion was based on the absence of a dominant visual element in Azalee’s trade mark, which consists of three elements written in capital letters, which meant that there was visual similarity (even if to a low degree) between the two marks due to the use of the word LIBRE.

Second, the GC upheld the conclusion of the EUIPO Board of Appeal that the conflicting marks had a medium degree of phonetic similarity. The Court emphasised that, despite the differences in the pronunciation rhythm of the signs, the public would perceive the presence of the common term 'libre' in both marks identically, thus justifying the medium degree of phonetic similarity between them.

Regarding conceptual similarity, the Court rejected the appellant's arguments regarding the separate interpretation of the terms, pointing out that the expression "la crème libre" in the trade mark application forms a conceptual unit evoking the concept of freedom. Moreover, the Court noted that the addition of 'la crème' did not alter the meaning of 'libre' and confirmed that, although the expression as a whole might be meaningless, the common word 'libre' retained its meaning, leading to conceptual similarity.

As a result of all of the above, as regards the likelihood of confusion, the General Court stressed that, given the similarity between the two signs (even if not high), the similarity between the goods and services covered and the overall perception of the sign by the average consumer could lead the public to wrongly believe that the goods come from the same source, which may result in a likelihood of confusion with the commercial origin of the goods.