After the CJEU decision in case C-30/15 P, fans of three-dimensional trade marks will be wondering if the opportunity to register them is as straightforward as it appears from the recent reform of the Regulation No. 207/2009.
For 10 years, Simba Toys and Seven Towns have been involved in the Rubik’s cube saga, which began in 1999, when the three-dimensional sign reproducing the popular Hungarian toy was registered as a Community trade mark.
The application for a declaration of invalidity filed in 2006 by Simba Toys was based mainly on the infringement of Article 7(1)(e)(ii) of Regulation No 40/94, which prevents a trade mark consisting exclusively of the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result to be registered.
The EUIPO Cancellation Division as well as the Board of Appeal and the General Court rejected the arguments of the German firm on the grounds that the essential characteristics of the sign at issue are a cube and a grid structure on each surface of the cube and that they do not perform any technical function.
Hence, the appellant’s argument was rejected because the rotating capability of the lattices did not result from the shape presented, but from the invisible internal mechanism which was not part of the graphical representation filed in the trade mark application.
As often happens, the above decisions have been overturned by the CJEU. In particular, the approach of the lower courts was found to be too narrow as they did not take into account the additional elements relating to the function of the actual goods in question.
Lastly, the court held that not taking into account the rotating capability of the cube would extend the trade mark protection to any other kind of puzzle with a similar shape. On the other hand, the technical function behind the cube falls within the scope of Article 7(1)(e)(ii), which precludes the granting of a permanent monopoly on technical solutions. Therefore, in this case it would be more appropriate to consider a patent protection as it has a limited life unlike trademarks.
In conclusion, while the Rubik brand will continue to ensure its exclusivity through other trademarks, copyright, passing off and unfair competition protection, this case made it clear that an effective access to the registration of unconventional trade marks remains as uncertain as the interpretation of Article 7(1)(e)(ii).