The owners of a hugely popular British animated series, ‘Peppa Pig’, have successfully won their bid to invalidate a Mark, arguably evocative of their well-known ‘Peppa Pig’ character.
Peppa Pig first graced our TV screens back in May 2004, and has since become one of the most well-known, and most popular British children’s TV programmes of all time. The rise of ‘Peppa Pig’ has, quite naturally, created a multitude of extremely lucrative commercial opportunities for the owners, Entertainment One and Astley Baker, who are now appearing to be more actively enforcing and policing their Peppa Pig-related IP rights than ever before.
One of the most recent cases involving ‘Peppa Pig’ has been the invalidation claim brought against an EU Mark filed for by Xianhao Pan. The invalidity claim perhaps comes as no surprise when one views the Marks in issue side-by-side, as displayed below:
|Xianhao Pan’s ‘TOBBIA’ Mark||The ‘Peppa Pig’ Mark|
In 2013, Xianhao Pan was granted an EUTM for the ‘TOBBIA’ Mark in Class 25, for clothing, footwear and headgear. The Mark is in the colours, pink, red, yellow and blue, and is said to depict a ‘tapir head on a human body’, with the words ‘TOBBIA’ in bold and black text underneath.
This was argued to be confusingly similar to the Peppa Pig creators’ earlier black and white mark, registered for the same goods. The earlier Trade Mark depicted the famous cartoon character, Peppa, with the words ‘PEPPA PIG’ underneath, in black and bold text.
When the case was first heard by the EUIPO Cancellation Division, rather controversially, they ruled that the two Marks were not confusingly similar, upholding the validity of the ‘TOBBIA’ Mark. On appeal in 2017, a U-Turn decision was made, and the ‘TOBBIA’ Mark was invalidated on the finding that the Marks were visually, phonetically and conceptually similar.
The General Court’s Decision
Following a round of appeals before the Board of Appeals of the EUIPO, the General Court concluded earlier today, 21 March 2019, the invalidity of the ‘TOBBIA’ Mark. Despite noting the differences in terms of the colours of the Marks in issue, it ruled that these differences, considered overall, did not outweigh the similarities.
In the appeal to the General Court, the owner of the ‘TOBBIA’ Mark argued that the Board of Appeals had failed to state the reasons for going against the first decision by the Cancellation division, but the General Court was quick to confirm that it was sufficient for the Board of Appeals to only state the reasons on which its own decision is based, and that an obligation did not extend towards identifying the incorrect aspects of the Cancellation Division’s decision.
Undoubtedly in agreement with the preceding Board of Appeals’ decisions, it was confirmed that ‘the average consumer normally perceives a mark as a whole’, without engaging in lengthy analysis as to the various details, and therefore, it was right to find that the Marks were visually similar overall.
Most interestingly, the General Court also remarked approval of the Board of Appeals’ previous assessment, which found a certain correlation between the word ‘tobbia’ and ‘peppa’, in the sense that both words contain the reiteration of a strong consonant, namely, the ‘B’ in ‘tobbia’ and the ‘P’ in ‘peppa’. Although not verbally similar therefore, it seems that there was a consensus that the structural correlation and extremely similar graphical elements in the Marks rendered an impression of similarity in the minds of the consumer, who might consequentially come to view the Marks, and also the respective goods, as being related in some way.
Despite assertions from the owner of the Mark that the ‘TOBBIA’ Mark depicted a tapir, rather than a pig, the court considered it unlikely that the public would at all associate the Mark with a tapir, consequently finding there to be conceptual identity in the Marks, in the sense that they both represented a pig.
Consequently, when considering the overall similarities from a visual, phonetic and conceptual perspective, the invalidity decision was upheld.
Whilst today’s decision may seem an overly generous stretch in favour of the creators of Peppa Pig, at least, when it comes to the court’s apparent approval of the ‘correlation’ between the ‘strong consonant’ elements of the Marks, the decision of the court does not appear all that surprising. A side-to-side comparison certainly highlights the ‘TOBBIA’ Mark’s eerie resemblance, highly reminiscent of the famous pig character. Given ‘Peppa Pig’s reputation, there is certainly a likelihood that consumers might come to perceive the Marks, and the respective goods, as being somehow associated and/or connected to the Peppa Pig franchise. Like it or not, what would have undoubtedly been interesting in the court’s decision would have been a more thorough discussion, or at least, a reference to the previous grounds raised by the owner of the ‘Peppa Pig’ Mark, specifically, the conflicts with the earlier copyright.