No exclusive rights in use of country house image

Israel

In Tnuva - Agricultural Cooperative for the Marketing of Agricultural Products v Arava Foods Ltd (Case 3485-11-09, February 8 2010), the District Court of Tel Aviv has ruled that Tnuva - Agricultural Cooperative for the Marketing of Agricultural Products had no exclusive rights in the use of the image of a country house in connection with cheese. It further ruled that use by Arava Foods Ltd of the word 'meudent' ('refined' in English) did not infringe Tnuva's rights in the trademark MEUDENT GVINA ('refined cheese').

Tnuva, the largest dairy cooperative in Israel, is the owner of various trademarks containing the image of country house with a red roof and a fence around it. It is also the owner of the trademark MEUDENT GVINA.

Arava is a dairy products manufacturer that specializes in the production of goat cheese. It started using a drawing of a country house on its packaging, accompanied by the words 'meudent izim' ('refined goats' cheese').

On December 31 2009 Tnuva filed a motion with the District Court of Tel Aviv, requesting:

  • an interim injunction preventing Arava from selling its products;
  • the destruction of Arava's products; and 
  • the removal of Arava's advertisements.

Tnuva claimed that:

  • the image of the country house on Arava's products was confusingly similar to Tnuva's well-known 'country house' mark;
  • consumers identified the 'concept' of the country house only with Tnuva; and
  • Arava infringed Tnuva's rights in the MEUDENT mark because Tnuva also produces goat cheese.

With regard to the first point, the court ruled that Tnuva had "stretched the limits of likelihood of confusion" beyond their proper bounds. The court held that the country scene that appeared on Arava's products was completely different from Tnuva's 'country house' mark. With regard to the second point, the court ruled that, since Arava's packaging and Tnuva's trademark were different, there was no likelihood of confusion among the public. Moreover, Tnuva had not provided any evidence that consumers identified the image of a country house with Tnuva's soft cheese products.

As for the third point, the court ruled that the MEUDENT mark was descriptive in connection with cheese and, therefore, enjoyed only a very narrow scope of protection. The court noted that since Arava was using the word 'meudent' together with the word 'izim' ('goats'), there was no infringement of Tnuva's MEUDENT mark. Tnuva's action was thus rejected.

Neil Wilkof and Gilad Shay, Herzog Fox & Neeman, Tel Aviv

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