On Your (automotive) (trade)marks, Get Set, Go!

Published date30 June 2022
Subject MatterIntellectual Property, Trademark
Law FirmSoulier Avocats
AuthorMs Sandrine Petoin

Citro'n can count on its chevrons, protected as a figurative trademark and confirmed as having a distinctive character by the Paris Court of Appeals in late 2021 and the EUIPO in April 2022, to block new competitor Polestar. Based in Sweden and car preparer for Volvo company, Polestar was unable to enter the French market of car manufacturers.

Insights on a two-stage legal battle and the distinctive signs that car manufacturers can use to protect their position and the related investments.

The press and various internet forums had denounced the visual connection between the Polestar logo and that of Citro'n in eloquent terms: "the sketch of the North Star which resembles, by an unfortunate chance, the old chevrons of Citro'n that some joker would have separated and turned over" (Challenges) or "the Jerks! (sic) they recycled the Citro'n chevron" (Autoplus website forum).

The first part of the legal battle between the parties took place before the Paris Judicial Court and then before the Paris Court of Appeals which issued on December 14, 2021 a decision that upheld the first instance judgment.

The weak overall resemblance between the signs in question had led the judges to dismiss the alleged infringement, the Court of Appeals having in this matter confirmed the reversal of the case law of the Court de Cassation (French Supreme Court) which considers that the application for registration of a sign as a trademark does not constitute an act of infringement.

However, in the case at hand, this was not an isolated trademark application, as Polestar had widely announced its plans to market cars online from the Polestar.com website, during 2020, as well as the development of a network of dealerships, the financing of which was then under negotiation.

It is in any case on the question of the infringement of the trademark with a reputation that Citro'n was able to successfully defend itself:

"Given the exceptional reputation of the Citro'n double chevron trademarks at issue and their strong distinctiveness acquired through intensive use supported by extremely significant advertising investments, and the fact that the conflicting signs are used to designate the same products, namely motor vehicles, the use by the Polestar companies of the contentious signs leads to an infringement of the distinctive character by dilution and blurring of said trademarks exploited in the automotive industry where the number of manufacturers is relatively limited".

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