Trade Mark Registration grants the owner a monopoly right over their Mark for an unlimited amount of time, so long as registration is renewed at each (10 year) anniversary.
When it comes to the registration of a 3D shape, arguably, the criteria for registrability is much more stringent, to avoid the same monopoly right being granted for a right that should more correctly be protected by a Design registration, with a limited life.
Aside from the usual requirements for registrability of a Trade Mark, a number of key hurdles are in place to limit the registrability of 3D shape Marks; these are listed below:
A 3D shape cannot be registered as a Trade Mark, if the shape:
- Arises from the inherent nature of the object/goods;
- Provides a technical function;
- Adds substantial value to the product.
Providing these objections can be overcome, a 3D shape can be an extremely valuable asset for an individual or company.
Case Study – The recent Jaguar Land Rover Case
Recently, the UKIPO rejected Jaguar Land Rover’s Trade Mark Applications for six 3D shapes, depicting their cars (pictured below), in a range of Classes of goods.
The grounds of the Oppositions were explored in detail in the UKIPO decision, which can be viewed here.
For the purposes of this article, we have focused upon two of the grounds pleaded:
- the lack of inherent distinctiveness and
- that the shape conferred substantial value to the goods
(1) Lack of inherent distinctiveness
According to case law, for a shape Mark to be registrable, the shape must depart significantly from the norm or customs of the sector of products of that kind. This assessment is made through the eyes of average consumers, whose level of attention will vary, according to the nature of the goods in question.
The UKIPO identified that the shapes in question had some unusual aspects, namely “‘arrow shot’ rear windows and alpine side windows”. However, the configuration of the shape, as a whole, was important. Even with some unusual elements, the shape, as a whole, did not necessary depart from the norms or customs of the sector, and consequently, the Marks were found to be devoid of distinctive character in relation to passenger cars.
(2) Substantial value
Jaguar Land Rover pleaded that the boxy ‘slab-sided’ shapes were counter-functional, not necessary to achieve a technical result, and also, not features that consumers would be looking for in competitors’ products.
The UKIPO expressed their uncertainty when deliberating whether the boxy ‘slab-sided’ shapes provided the ‘aesthetic appeal’, and it was merely noted that this was a ‘difficult and developing area of the law’, and the ground was ultimately left undecided.
Key Points from the UKIPO decision
- When it comes to 3D Trade Mark Applications, Applicants will fare better the greater the degree that a shape constitutes a ‘significant departure from the norms or customs of the sector’. In this regard, mere elements and/or aspects of uniqueness or originality might not suffice, since it is the overall shape of the Mark which will be considered pertinent.
- Unfortunately, the concept of substantial value still remains somewhat obscure. It is unclear whether this assessment should take into account or ignore the fact that consumers will recognise the shape. This raises doubt as to whether established brands, who have spent significant time and investment in creating brand recognition, will be jeopardising their ability to seek Trade Mark protection for a recognised product, if its appeal is only due to its ‘iconic’ shape/status in the mind of consumers. Hopefully, it will not take long for the ground of substantial value to be brought to the courts’ attention again, and perhaps the next time round, this will be properly addressed.
Overall, the UKIPO decision was not surprising. Given the potentially perpetual power of a Trade Mark registration, it remains in the interest of public policy to refuse registration of a 3D shape, where this would effectively grant a person or company, an endless monopoly over a shape that should be or become available for others to use in commerce.
If you would like further information or advice on registering 3D Trade Marks, or for any other Trade Mark advice, please contact the highly experienced team of Trade Mark Attorneys at Albright IP, who will be pleased to advise you further.