Tea importer and distributor fined for copying competitor’s packaging

Bulgaria

The Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic of Bulgaria has upheld a decision by the Commission for the Protection of Competition (CPC) against Bulgarian tea importer and distributor Micra-AIA (Haskovo, southern Bulgaria).

The plaintiff, Solotex-Lubomir Hristov, claimed that the defendant, Micra-AIA, had designed the packaging of its two black Ceylon tea products, Plantation Fresh Brand and Plantation Fresh, so as to copy the packaging of the plaintiff’s products, Emona Brand and Resh, which have been present on the Bulgarian market since 2001.

On February 8 2011 the CPC issued a decision against Micra-AIA under Article 35, Paragraph 1 of the Law on the Protection of Competition. This provision prohibits the offering of goods or services whose appearance, packaging, marking, name or other features might deceive or lead to deception with respect to their origin, manufacturer, seller, method and place of manufacture, source and manner of acquisition or purpose, quantity, quality, nature, consumer properties and other substantial characteristics.

The CPC imposed a fine of €32,760 (approximately $43,205) on Micra-AIA, as well as two fines - amounting to €511 each (approximately $674) - on Slavcho Angelov, the manager of Micra-AIA, and Hristo Hristov, who had sought the registration of the infringing packaging before the Bulgarian Patent and Trademark Office.

Comparing the appearance of the parties' products, the CPC found that there was a phonetic similarity due to the use of the word element 'brand' on the products and the similarity of the word elements 'fresh' and 'resh'. Further, the CPC found that the packages were visually similar, as Plantation Fresh Brand and Emona Brand were both orange with the image of a bird, while the Plantation Fresh and Resh packages were both black with the image of a horse.

The CPC ruled that the defendant had deliberately copied the plaintiff’s packaging in an effort to be associated with its products, and had thus misled consumers and built brand recognition based on the plaintiff’s reputation.

On March 12 2012 the Supreme Administrative Court upheld the decision of the CPC. The court’s decision is final and not subject to appeal.

Valeri Penev, PETOŠEVIC, Sofia

Unlock unlimited access to all WTR content