On 18 November 2021, the President of the Brussels Enterprise Court rejected all the claims brought by a local political movement to oppose the new name of the Flemish social democrats.
The Flemish social democrats changed the name of their political party in March 2021 from SP.A to VOORUIT. The Flemish word VOORUIT means FORWARD and refers to the history of the socialist movement in Flanders, where the name VOORUIT was used for a cooperative bakery in the 19th century and later for pharmacies, for a socialist newspaper and until now for a well-known arts centre in Ghent.
But other political movements have also used the name VOORUIT and one of those is the local political party KOKSIJDE VOORUIT. This party won a few seats in the local elections of the coastal municipality of Koksijde in 2018 and is positioned on the right side of the political spectrum.
It filed a lawsuit against the Flemish social democrats because it found that the new name VOORUIT would be likely to create confusion with the existing name KOKSIJDE VOORUIT. The existing name was allegedly protected as a trade name under article 8 of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property of 1883, and the use of a similar trade name would create confusion in the market. Moreover, using the name VOORUIT would also be an act of unfair competition under article 10bis of the Paris Convention, which in §3 prohibits “all acts of such a nature as to create confusion by any means whatever with the establishment, the goods, or the industrial or commercial activities, of a competitor”. These breaches of the Paris Convention were, according to KOKSIJDE VOORUIT, also breaches of the Belgian commercial practices legislation (art. VI.104 of the Belgian Code of Economic Law). The party asked the court to prevent the Flemish social democrats from further using the name VOORUIT in the press, in advertising, as a domain name and on websites, amongst others.
The Brussels Enterprise Court rejected all the claims of KOKSIJDE VOORUIT for the simple reason that political parties are not (commercial) enterprises that benefit from the protection offered by the Paris Convention or by the Belgian commercial practices legislation. This protection is limited to physical persons or legal entities that pursue a long-term economic goal (art. I.8.39° of the Code of Economic Law). Political parties play another role in our society; they are not economically driven.
According to the court, political parties do not become (commercial) enterprises because of their fundraising activities. Likewise, they do not become traders because they are entitled to file trademarks. The Flemish social democrats did indeed file the trademark VOORUIT (EUTM N° 018279077) and that mark is being opposed by KOKSIJDE VOORUIT. One of the arguments raised in the opposition proceedings is that this local political party has a well-known (but unregistered) trademark as defined in article 6 bis of the Paris Convention.
It would be interesting to know what the EUIPO thinks about the well-known character of an unregistered trademark that actually is nothing more than the name of a political movement in a few local municipalities in Flanders…
The judgment of the President of the Brussels Enterprise Court of 18 November 2021 (A/21/01030) is available here.