No real winner in TLT battle

In TLT-Toftlund Logistik & Transport A/S v TBL Trailer A/S (Case V-17-08, May 29 2009), the Maritime and Commercial Court has ruled in a dispute over the use of the initials TLT on truck trailers.
TLT-Toftlund Logistik & Transport A/S was called KI Transport A/S (Ltd) until October 1 2006. The firm then changed its name to TLT and advertised its new name in the Danish Transport Gazette and Truck Magazine. TLT-Toftlund operates a transport business from Scandinavia to Austria, Switzerland and Italy. TLT-Toftlund's trucks bear the initials TLT surrounded by 12 stars in a circle.
TBL Trailer A/S was established on November 6 2006 under the name Thomas Lehrmann Trailer A/S, with Thomas Christian Borregaard Lehrmann as manager and Swedish transport company PNO as co-owner. Some of TBL Trailer's trucks bore the initials TLT in white letters within a red triangle.
TLT-Toftlund became aware of the presence of trucks bearing the TLT mark at the Danish/German border. Further, some road users called TLT-Toftlund to complain about the fact that trucks bearing the TLT mark overtook in a dangerous manner on the road. Thomas Lehrmann Trailer subsequently changed its name to TBL Trailer to avoid conflict with TLT-Toftlund. However, the TLT mark was still used on over 50 trailers, while approximately 30 trailers bore the TBL mark.
TLT-Toftlund claimed that:

  • TBL Trailer was not allowed to use the initials TLT as a trademark in connection with the marketing, lease and sale of truck trailers; and
  • TBL Trailer was infringing its rights in the unregistered trademark TLT.
In support of these claims, TLT-Toftlund argued that:
  • its rights in the TLT mark predated the date of establishment of TBL Trailer;
  • both firms operate in the same sector; and
  • the differences between the graphic elements of the marks were irrelevant because the initials TLT constituted the dominant element.
In its defence, TBL Trailer argued that:

  • it had the right to use the initials TLT, which stood for 'Thomas Lehrmann Trailer'; and
  • the graphic elements of the marks were very different.
The Maritime and Commercial Court first recognized that the parties were in the same business. The court also pointed out that TLT-Toftlund had started to use the mark before TBL Trailer began use of the initials and before the company name Thomas Lehrmann Trailer was registered.
However, the court found that even though the marks were identical, there was no conflict as an entity has the right to use its own initials as a trademark. Nevertheless, because TBL Trailer had accepted to change its name, the latter should replace the TLT sign with the initials TLB on all trailers before July 1 2009.
The court ordered that both parties pay their own costs. 
Christian Levin Nielsen, Zacco, Copenhagen

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