Dairy producer and distributor fined for unfair competition
Bulgaria’s Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) has fined two Bulgarian companies - a dairy producer and a dairy distributor - for unfair competition. Bulgarian dairy producer Elvi, which has been making yoghurt under the trademark BOJENTZI since 2005, initiated the proceedings.
Elvi applied for the registration of the BOJENTZI mark with the Bulgarian Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) in 2005, but the registration was not granted until March 2012. In June 2007 the PTO refused to register the mark on absolute grounds, as it contained the name of the architectural and historical reserve of Bojentzi, situated in central northern Bulgaria. After several legal proceedings, the Ministry of Culture allowed Elvi to use the name Bojentzi, and Elvi and the PTO finally settled the case in March 2012.
Local dairy distributor Germa-95, which distributed Elvi products between 2008 and 2011, applied for registration of the BOJENTZI mark in 2009 before both the PTO and the Ministry of Culture. The PTO refused the application but, in 2011, the Ministry of Culture allowed Germa-95 to register BOJENTZI as a trademark.
In September 2011, in collaboration with another dairy producer, Czech-99, Germa-95 started distributing dairy products under the name Bojentzi (right), which resembled the overall appearance of the Bojentzi yoghurt produced by Elvi (left):
Moreover, after Germa-95 received the PTO’s refusal to register the mark, the company sent letters to several of Elvi’s clients advising them to stop selling Elvi’s Bojentzi yoghurt. Germa-95’s actions led to the termination of several agreements between Elvi and local distributors.
The CPC ruled in favour of Elvi, noting that the similarity between Elvi's products and those of Germa-95 was sufficient to mislead consumers and undermine the distinctiveness of Elvi’s brand. Consequently, the CPC:
- ordered that Germa-95 stop using the confusingly similar trademark immediately; and
- imposed a €250,000 fine (approximately $320,000) on Germa-95 and a €50,000 fine (approximately $64,000) on Czech-99.
The owner of Germa-95 claims that his company has filed an action for the cancellation of Elvi’s mark. Germa-95 is also trying to register the packaging of its yoghurt as an industrial design and Elvi is opposing this application before the PTO.
Petia Petrova, PETOŠEVIĆ, Sofia
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