The General Court of the European Union, by judgment T-683/18 of 12 December 2019, confirmed that the sign “Cannabis Store Amsterdam” containing the graphic representation of cannabis leaves in the background is contrary to public policy and therefore cannot be registered as a trademark of the European Union.

The case

The applicant filed an application for registration of a European Union trademark for goods and services related to food and beverages. Following the refusal by the examiner on grounds of public policy under Article 7(1)(f) of EU Regulation 2007/1001, the applicant brought an appeal before the Board of Appeal. The Board of Appeal, by decision of 31 August 2018, also confirmed the examiner’s decision and rejected the appeal. The applicant then brought an appeal before the General Court of the European Union.

The decision of the EU General Court

By judgment T-683/18 of 12 December 2019, the General Court confirmed the decision of the Board of Appeal, in which it held that, although hemp leaf does not contain any psychoactive substance, it is often used as a media symbol for marijuana. In addition, the word “Amsterdam” refers to the fact that this city has many shops for narcotics derived from cannabis, due to the sale of cannabis being tolerated in Netherlands. Furthermore, the word “store”, which means “shop”, has the effect that the public could expect the products and services correspond to those offered by a marijuana shop.

With reference to the concept of public policy, the Court confirmed that the decisive criterion for the purposes of assessing whether a sign is contrary to public policy is the perception which the relevant public will have of the trademark. That perception may be based on inaccurate definitions from a scientific or technical point of view, which means that it is the specific and current perception of that sign that matters, irrespective of whether the consumer has all the information available. The presence in the sign of the words “Amsterdam”, “Cannabis” and “Store”, together with the cannabis leaves, means that the target public perceives that the goods and services identified by the sign contain drugs which are illegal in many Member States.

The judges emphasize the principle that if grounds for obstruction due to contrary to public policy exist only in certain EU territories, the obstruction extends to the entire territory of the European Union. EU law does not impose a uniform scale of values and acknowledges that the requirements of public policy may vary from one country to another and from one era to another. Member States essentially retain the freedom to determine what constitutes those requirements in accordance with their national politics.

In particular, the Court noted that, although there is a debate in some Member States about the legalization of marijuana also for recreational use, the use of marijuana is illegal in many European countries. That prohibition thus seeks to protect an interest which those Member States consider fundamental in accordance with their own systems of values, with the result that the rules applicable to the consumption and use of that substance are a matter of “public policy”. Considering this public policy protectable, the Court notes that there is no unanimously accepted, or even predominant trend in the European Union regarding the lawfulness of the use or consumption of products derived from cannabis, but Articles 83 and 168 TFEU which fight against illicit drug trafficking and prevention of and information on the health effects of drugs

In conclusion, the General Court rejected the appeal confirming that the sign cannot be registered under the combined provisions of Article 7(1)(f) and Article 7(2) of Regulation 2017/1001.

The full text of the decision can be found at the following link: