The trademark MATIAS was registered for wine. G Mathiasz – great-grandson of famous grape breeder and winemaker J Mathiasz – applied for the cancellation of the mark, which was granted by the Hungarian Intellectual Property Office (HIPO).
The HIPO held that the mark was similar to the surname Mathiasz, and that J Mathiasz's grape breeding activity between 1838 and 1921 was widely known. It also noted that the applicant sought to preserve his great-grandfather's intellectual heritage. Further, the HIPO held that the surname Mathiasz was uncommon.
The rights holder, represented by Sár Law Office, filed a request for review with the Metropolitan Tribunal, which disagreed with the HIPO decision and rejected the cancellation application. The tribunal held that, as J Mathiasz had died, in accordance with Section 85(3) of the Civil Code 1959, only his memory could suffer injury. The tribunal held that the use of a mark similar to J Mathiasz's name would not be detrimental to his personality rights, even if the public associated it with him.
The applicant should have provided supplemental evidence regarding the damage to his great-grandfather's personality rights – for example, evidence that the quality of the rights holder's wine was inferior. As it happened, the evidence filed led the tribunal to conclude the opposite – namely, that the rights holder's wine was of good quality, with some having received awards. The rights holder had undertaken significant marketing of her wine and there was no evidence that the public associated her mark with J Mathiasz.
The applicant filed an appeal, which was rejected by the Metropolitan Court of Appeal. The court held that the right to protect an individual's reputation can be enforced only by the individual in question. Further, in trying to enforce his great-grandfather's personality rights, the applicant had failed to prove the supplemental fact that the mark or its use would be detrimental to his reputation. The court agreed with the tribunal in this respect (8.Pkf.25.825/2015).
J Mathiasz's work is known worldwide by wine professionals and grapes bred by him, such as the Csabagyöngye and the Szőlőskertek Királynője grapes, are famous.
Arguably, the applicant's persistent efforts to protect the reputation and memory of his famous great-grandfather, whom he probably did not know personally, are admirable, and it was no accident that the HIPO decided in his favour. However, cases must be decided based on statutory law and not ethical or emotional grounds.
Both the tribunal and the Court of Appeal held that personality rights, including the right to protect an individual's reputation, can be exerted only by the individual in question. This is a basic civil law rule.
The application of the rule relating to personality rights is more interesting, as both the tribunal and the court held that they required supplemental evidence to make a finding of infringement, with the tribunal referring to bad-quality wine as an example. Although the referred Section 85(3) of the Civil Code does not provide for such a restriction, the special rule established in Section 4(1)(c) of the Trademark Act, which refers to unfair advantage, can be considered. As a result, the interpretation of the tribunal and the Court of Appeal aligns with the special rule on the exploitation of reputation provided in Section 4(1)(c) of the Trademark Act, which corresponds with Article 4(3) of the EU First Trademarks Directive (89/104/EEC).
The rights holder's motivation for choosing a mark similar to J Mathiasz's reputed name does not appear to have been clarified. However, as regards trademark law, this is of no importance.
For further information on this topic please contact Alexander Vida at Danubia Patent & Law Office LLC by telephone (+36 1 411 8800) or email ([email protected]). The Danubia Patent & Law Office website can be accessed at www.danubia.hu.