A generic lion is non-distinctive even to specialised public

On 5 February 2020 the General Court issued the judgements T-331/19 and T-332/19 (available only in French) and upheld the EUIPO Board of Appeal’s decision to reject the application of Balmain, the famous fashion house, for the registration of two graphic trademarks.

It all started in 2017, when Balmain tried to register two graphic trademarks depicting a lion’s head, surrounded by a ring-made chain, before EUIPO. EUIPO rejected the registration for goods in classes 14 (cufflinks and jewellery) and 26 (buttons, shoe press-studs) under the Nice Classification (link) on the absolute grounds that the trademarks were devoid of any distinctive character (Article 7, Paragraph 1, Subparagraph (b) of the Regulation (EU) 2017/1001 of the European Union trade mark). Balmain appealed to the EUIPO Board of Appeal, but the appeal was rejected with decisions R 1522/2018-5 and R 1224/2018-5.

Consequently, Balmain filed an appeal before the General Court. In their appeal, Balmain argued that their goods from classes 14 and 26 under the Nice Classification are purchased by professional and highly-specialised public whose degree of attention is higher than that of the general public, which is why a lower degree of distinctiveness of their trademarks’ signs should suffice for registration. The General Court, however, was of a different opinion and explained that the high degree of attention of specialised public cannot, by itself, affect the assessment of the trademark’s distinctive character. Since there is a plethora of jewellery, cufflinks and buttons depicting the head of a lion on the market, and since Balmain trademarks’ designs did not differ from them in any significant way, the General Court upheld the EUIPO Board of Appeal’s decision to refuse the registration of the trademarks.