Norwegian bank prohibited from using 'people' mark

Sweden

Following a recent decision of the Court of Appeals (Case No T-289-13), Norwegian bank Folkia has been prohibited from using its company name and trademark.

In 2011 Folksam, a Swedish insurance company, sued Folkia for trademark infringement on the ground that Folkia’s name was too similar to its own name.

Folksam, which was established in the early 1900s, complained about Folkia’s frequent use of the word 'folk',  which translates as 'people' in English. The insurance company was founded with the intention to make fire insurance widely accessible to the common people; Folkia now claimed to do the same, but for money and loans. Folkia had been associated with other loan companies that had surfaced in Sweden over the past years, offering fast and easy loans. Folksam argued that there was a similarity between the parties' trademarks which was detrimental to Folksam and gave Folkia an unfair advantage. Folkia counterclaimed, requesting that the court revoke Folksam’s national and European trademarks for banking and credit operations. 

In the first round of the battle before Stockholm’s district court, Folksam was partially successful as the court prohibited Folkia from using some of its trademarks, such as FOLKLÅN, FOLKGIRO and FOLKONOMI (meaning 'people's loans', 'people's giro' and 'peoplenomics' in English). However, Folkia went on the offensive and filed for the cancellation of a number of Folksam's trademark registrations for financial services on the ground of non-use. The district court cancelled the marks for those services but, despite this, Folkia was still found to infringe upon Folksam’s earlier rights.

Both Folksam and Folkia appealed to the Court of Appeals. The court ruled that there was a likelihood of confusion on the part of the public between the two brands. The court did not question whether Folkia was a responsible creditor, but instead stated that the short-term loan companies that had emerged in recent years had been an object for criticism. Due to this, Folkia’s use of its trademark was detrimental to FOLKIA. The court noted that FOLKSAM was a very well-known trademark. As a result, the Norwegian bank was prohibited from using its trademark FOLKIA or any other name containing the term 'folk'. However, the court upheld the cancellation of Folksam’s trademarks for financial services.

It is easy to evaluate past events with the wisdom of hindsight. However, the judgment emphasises how important it is to select your trademark carefully - a well-founded and informed decision at an early stage gives a greater guarantee of a long-lasting trademark. 

Tom Kronhöffer and Erik Wickström, von lode advokat ab, Stockholm

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