Frucor gets the green light and maintains its V Green registration

In the recent decision of the Intellectual Property Office of New Zealand, Frucor Suntory New Zealand Limited v. Energy Beverages LLC [2020] NZIPOTM 5 (11 May 2020), Energy Beverages LLC (Energy Beverages) was unsuccessful in its application for revocation of the green colour mark (V Green mark) owned by Frucor Suntory New Zealand Limited (Frucor).

 

The full decision can be found here.

 

Background

The parties are competitors in the energy drink market. Energy Beverages produces the “MOTHER” branded energy drink and Frucor the “V” branded product.

In June 2017, Energy Beverages filed an application for non-use revocation of Frucor’s registration 795206 in class 32 for “Energy drinks; none of the aforementioned being cocoa – based beverages”.

Below is a representation of the V Green mark and endorsement that appears on the NZ Trade Marks Office database:

V Green mark

 

“The mark consists of the colour green (Pantone 376c), as shown in the representation attached to the application, applied as the predominant colour to the goods, their packaging or labels., Section 18(2) of the Trade Marks Act 2002 applies.”

The relevant non-use period is 21 May 2014 to 21 May 2017.

Energy Beverages filed the revocation application following a threat of infringement from Frucor arising from its use of an ink mix equivalent to Pantone 376c in its “KICKED APPLE get-up” for its MOTHER energy drink.

Energy Beverages claimed that Pantone 376c looks like:

Pantone 376c

which is different to the registered mark. It consequently claimed that Frucor had not made genuine use of the V Green mark in New Zealand during the relevant period, applied as the predominant colour to its goods, their packaging or labels.

Both parties gave evidence regarding the Pantone Colour Matching System (PCMS), which is an internationally recognised system of standardising colour tones.

Frucor established that it had submitted an original square sample cut from a roll of labels coated with PMS 376 with metallic finish with the application for registration of the V Green mark. PMS 376 is a base formula for a green colour.

Energy Beverages argued the Frucor could not have used Pantone 376c on its V cans because the “c” suffix indicates it is a colour that can only be applied to coated paper stock and not metallic substrates.

Frucor admitted that the colour swatch supplied with the application was not Pantone 376c, but only “the PMS reference which best reflects the colour of 376 when printed on a metallic substrate” such as a can or metallic foil label. This view was consistent with Energy Beverages’ own evidence – “Frucor has mixed up a colour – the “V” green – to match or mirror Pantone 376C as closely as possible”.

Frucor submitted that the difference in colour between the sample provided at filing and the representation appearing on the register was due to the degradation in colour from the copying and scanning processes undertaken during the digitisation of IPONZ IP records in 2009. Energy Beverage’s own evidence demonstrated how printed colour degrades through such repeated processes.

Issues for determination

  • What is the appropriate representation of the trade mark for the purposes of assessing use?

In the High Court decision in Levi Strauss & Co v Kimbyr Investments [1994] 1 NZLR 332, Williams J held that the written explanation of the mark defines the trade mark and not the image of the mark on the register:

the opening words of the written description state that “the mark consists of”. In the absence of any other words explicitly stating that the pictorial representation is to govern, those words are decisive”.

While noting that the colour swatch attached to the trade mark application was a considerably different shade of green to that appearing on the register, the Assistant Commissioner applied Levi Strauss and found that the relevant representation is that attached to the application for the trade mark, as specified in the written explanation. Accordingly, she did not consider that the different representation of the colour on the register was relevant to the assessment of use of the trade mark.

Although not strictly necessary for the Assistant Commissioner to reach a conclusion as to the reason for the difference between the colour chip as shown on the register and the colour as described in the application, she accepted Frucor’s explanation that the difference appears to have arisen from the process of uploading the colour swatch to the register during the digitisation process in 2009.

  • Was there genuine use of the V Green trade mark in the course of trade during the relevant period?

Having found that the written explanation of the trade mark overrides the representation provided, the issue for determination is whether the evidence of use relied upon by Frucor constitutes qualifying genuine use of “the colour green (Pantone 376c) as shown in the colour swatch attached to the application, applied to the goods, their packaging and labels”.

Energy Beverages claimed that Frucor’s evidence of use was insufficient to establish genuine use of the mark in the course of trade in New Zealand. It argued that the representation of the mark as attached to the application and the reference to “the colour green (Pantone 376c)” are inconsistent, or otherwise incapable of together describing a trade mark, or being used as such. The Assistant Commissioner rejected this argument as an attempt by Energy Beverages to challenge the validity of the mark itself (which is not permitted under s66).

The Assistant Commissioner agreed with Energy Beverages’ contention that the goods referred to in the written explanation of the trade mark are the beverages themselves (Frucor did not contend that the trade mark is applied to the liquid drink), but accepted Frucor’s submission that the use of the trade mark on cans or bottles is use “in relation to” the goods. She said this conclusion is of little significance to the revocation application, because if use of the trade mark on cans or bottles does not constitute use in relation to the goods, it will certainly constitute use in relation to packaging.

After reviewing the different categories of use, the Assistant Commissioner was satisfied that there was sufficient evidence of use of the V Green trade mark by Frucor in New Zealand during the relevant period, on V cans, can multipack shrink wrap and paperboard packaging for multipack bottles, as well as related promotional and advertising materials.

Consequently, the application for revocation failed and the V Green trade mark was permitted to remain on the register.

Takeaway

This decision is informative in clarifying how to interpret depictions of non-traditional marks that appear on the Register of Trade Marks in New Zealand, and indicates the importance of accurately describing such trade marks in the application for registration.