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Blow to halloumi mark as EU General Court rules in favour of BBQloumi (Updated)

The EU’s General Court on Wednesday ruled that there was no likelihood of confusion between the collective mark ‘halloumi’ reserved for the members of a Cypriot association, and ‘BBQloumi’ which serves to designate the products of a Bulgarian company.

In March last year, the European Court of Justice overturned a ruling that the Bulgarian cheese called BBQloumi could be registered with an EU trademark after an appeal filed by the Halloumi Foundation in Cyprus.

The court ruled then that the name BBQloumi may be similar enough to halloumi that buyers could be tricked into thinking BBQloumi products come from Cyprus.

The Foundation for the Protection of the Traditional Cheese of Cyprus named halloumi is the proprietor of the EU collective mark ‘HALLOUMI’, registered for cheese. An EU collective mark is a specific type of EU trademark, capable of distinguishing the goods or services of the members of the association which is the proprietor of the mark from those of other undertakings.

The trademark fight is part of a broader campaign by Cyprus to protect its cheese from competitors by getting the EU to give it special status as a geographically protected cheese made only on the island.

Relying on that collective mark, the foundation brought opposition proceedings against the registration as an EU trademark of the figurative sign comprising the word element ‘BBQLOUMI’, which M. J. Dairies EOOD, a Bulgarian company, had applied for in relation to, inter alia, cheese, meat extracts, cheese-flavoured food products and catering services.

This was challenged by the foundation.

The European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), responsible for the examination of applications for registration of EU trademarks, dismissed the opposition on the grounds, in particular, that there was no likelihood of confusion, for consumers, between the figurative sign ‘BBQloumi’ and the earlier collective mark HALLOUMI.

The halloumi protection foundation then brought proceedings against the EUIPO decision before the General Court, which, after having found that the mark HALLOUMI had weak distinctiveness because the term ‘halloumi’ designates a specific type of cheese, also held that there was no likelihood of confusion.

This was then appealed by the foundation at the European Court of Justice, which ruled on March 5, 2020 that the General Court had relied on an incorrect premiss “since the fact that the distinctiveness of an earlier mark” was weak did not preclude the existence of a likelihood of confusion.

Accordingly, it set aside the General Court’s judgment and referred the case back to examine whether there was a likelihood of confusion for consumers as regards the origin of the goods covered by the sign ‘BBQloumi’.

However, on Wednesday, in the latest chapter of the saga, the General Court again dismissed the Cypriot association’s action by holding that EUIPO was correct in finding that there was no likelihood of confusion.

“Concerning the similarity of the signs in question, the General Court states that the signs at issue share the element ‘loumi’ which has weak inherent distinctiveness for a large part of the relevant public who will understand it as a possible reference to halloumi cheese,” the ruling said.

“Given that the attention of the relevant public will be drawn more to the initial part of that word element, namely the part ‘bbq’, owing to its position, rather than to the final part ‘loumi’, that latter part contributes very little to the distinctiveness of the mark applied for.

“Thus, the low degree of similarity of the signs in question is unlikely to contribute to the existence of a likelihood of confusion,” the General Court said.

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