Law & Practice

EUROPEAN UNION: ‘Mea’ in ALMEA Caught by MEA

Published: April 7, 2021

Raffaele Ranieri

Raffaele Ranieri Notarbartolo & Gervasi S.p.A. Milano, Italy INTA Bulletins—Europe Subcommittee

Verifier

Michiel Rijsdijk

Michiel Rijsdijk Arnold & Siedsma Amsterdam, Netherlands INTA Bulletins—Europe Subcommittee

In Almea Ltd v. EUIPO, with Sanacorp Pharmahandel GmbH as intervener (Case T-190/20, Dec. 9, 2021), the Sixth Chamber of the General Court of the European Union (GC) affirmed the decision of the Board of Appeal (BoA) of the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) concurring the likelihood of confusion between the ALMEA figurative mark and the earlier word mark MEA.

The basis for the ruling was that the subject mark contained the entirety of the earlier mark, and that its prefix “Al” with figurative elements was second in the order of prominence, thus falling outside the principle that the first element of a word leads in significance.

Almea Ltd applied to register ALMEA in Classes 3 (various skin and hair care products) and 5 (sanitary preparations for medical purposes, among others), with figurative elements residing in the letter “l” in its prefix “Al.” Sanacorp Pharmahandel GmbH opposed based on its earlier mark MEA for identical to very similar goods in the same classes.

Conceptually, the BoA found both marks devoid of meaning vis-à-vis the relevant public. Visually and phonetically, however, the BoA found that the only element distinguishing the marks was “Al” in the subject mark, but that the minor stylization of the letter “l” and its figurative elements were inconsequential. It recognized the mark to clearly be ALMEA, where the letters making up the earlier mark were wholly included. The BoA found the prefix insufficient to preclude the relevant public from perceiving the subject mark as sharing an ending with the earlier mark.

Almea appealed on the grounds that the BoA erred in its assessment of the likelihood of confusion by placing disproportionate emphasis on the common ending of the marks.

The court acknowledged that the relevant public perceives the marks differently due to the figurative elements and ALMEA having more letters than MEA, but nevertheless felt that the public would equally perceive that the marks share the letters “mea.” It agreed with the BoA that the element “mea” contributes more to the overall impression of the mark as it is the more prominent part of the mark. The proposition that consumers are reasonably well-informed and circumspect is irrelevant as that does not mean that “mea” would be disregarded.

Assertions that “Al” would attract more attention from the relevant public than “mea” failed as Almea Ltd. proffered no arguments in support. Its argument that consumers tend to separate “Al” from “mea” failed as such separation occurs only when the word has conceptual meaning, which was not the case here. As a consequence, the GC dismissed the appeal and the opposition remained successful.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest. Law & Practice updates are published without comment from INTA except where it has taken an official position.

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