On 16 January 2008, the Court of First Instance (CFI) (Third Chamber) dismissed an application for annulment trade mark registration in Inter-Ikea Systems BV (IKEA Systems) v the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM).

Since 1996, Inter-Ikea Systems (IIS) has had a registered community and national trade mark in several Member States of the European Union) for the mark IKEA in relation to goods and services in classes 16, 20 and 42 for, inter alia, cardboard and furniture. In June 2002, IIS filed an application to annul the community trade mark registration for the sign and device, IDEA, in relation to identical goods. IIS claimed that IDEA created a likelihood of confusion with IKEA within the meaning of Article 8(1)(b). Although the Cancellation Division of OHIM declared that IDEA was invalid, it failed to state any reasons. IIS appealed. OHIM’s First Board of Appeal upheld the appeal and set aside the decision of the Cancellation Division because the Board found that both marks were visually and conceptually dissimilar and there was no likelihood of confusion. IKEA brought the case to the CFI to annul the Board’s decision. The CFI dismissed IIS’s claim and ruled that:

1. Average consumers make their choices based on a number of functional and aesthetic considerations of each product. They are observant, particularly as furniture is not purchased often, and the price is usually high.

2. The Court used the global assessment to find similarity and likelihood of confusion between two marks in the case. It held:

a. There was no visual similarity between the marks. Both IKEA and IDEA had verbal and figurative elements. Although the verbal element of the marks was similar, the verbal similarity was not important as the figurative element of IDEA was distinctive and highly different from that of IKEA.

b. Although both marks were phonetically similar, the consonants D and K in IDEA and IKEA respectively causes the overall marks to be entirely different. Consequently, the Court concluded that there was only a low degree of aural similarity between the marks.

c. There could be no conceptual similarity between the marks because IKEA conveyed no clear meaning in any of the official languages of the European Union whereas the relevant public perceived IDEA to be a basic English expression.

3. Because the average consumers are observant, visual and conceptual differences between the marks are more important than the aural similarity. As there are no visual and conceptual similarities, the low degree of similarity in aural comparison could not make the average consumer confused by the use of IDEA. Therefore, there was no likelihood of confusion between the marks.