The Gleissner Files 2019: IP office reveals staggering number of trademark applications
A major new investigation by World Trademark Review (WTR) has revealed how entrepreneur and serial trademark filer Michael Gleissner has stepped up his IP application activity in recent months. Between September 2018 and the end of January 2019, he filed more than 300 trademark applications, including more than 100 in 2019.
We have extensively reported on Gleissner’s activities in recent years. With assets claimed to be worth $300 million, the German-born businessman made his fortune as an early online pioneer. However, it is his activities in the trademark space that have brought his name to the attention of rights holders around the world. In August 2016 WTR first revealed the staggering scope of Gleissner’s trademark filing activity. At that time, we found that he had personally registered the names of more than 1,000 UK companies, of which he was the sole director. Those organisations were subsequently used as the applicant name on hundreds of trademark applications. This rampant filing activity continued throughout 2017, and in October 2017 we published “The Gleissner Files”; a multi-week investigation culminating in a searchable database of more than 4,400 trademark applications and 5,300 domain names linked to the entrepreneur.
While such activity is entirely legal (and incredibly expensive, with the financial cost of filing fees alone estimated to be over $1 million), the motivation behind it remains a mystery. For a while, his filing activity appeared to slow. However, that was not the experience in Latvia. New data reveals that two companies closely associated with Gleissner – Grigorius Holdings SIA and Fashion One Television SIA – have filed 899 trademark applications at the Latvian Patent Office (LRPV) since January 2018. As Figure 1 demonstrates, the two entities filed fairly consistently throughout 2018 and so far have lodged more than 100 trademark applications in Latvia in 2019.
Figure 1: Trademark filings in Latvia from Grigorius Holdings and Fashion One Television (2018-2019)
In all, the two companies are listed as the applicant names on 1,570 trademark applications in Latvia – with the vast majority filed in 2017 and 2018. As of the end of January 2019, 905 of those trademarks have reached registration (accounting for 57%), 283 have ended (through either cancellation or abandonment) and 382 remain pending.
As to the applications themselves, most are for single word terms, including popular first names (eg, CHARLIE, HARRY, ROB, SHERLOCK and VERA), colours (eg, BLUE, PINK, PURPLE and VIOLET) and animals (eg, EAGLE, SEAL, SQUIRREL and STINGRAY). They also include terms seemingly linked to popular brands (eg, BAIDU, BRITISH AIRWAYS EUROPE, ENRON, IPAD, ITUNES, LEHMAN BROTHERS, PARAMOUNT, ROCKEFELLER, SUPREME and TESLA) and relating to IP offices (eg, EUIPO and EUTM).
Talking to WTR, a representative from the LRPV confirmed that the office is aware of Gleissner’s rampant filing activity at the registry. Asked why Latvia was chosen as a destination for this brand portfolio building exercise, the representative had one possible answer. “According to the Latvian national law on trademarks and indications of geographical origin, all applications are examined in accordance only with the absolute grounds for refusal,” they said. “Relative grounds for refusal are not examined. Therefore, if the result of expert examination based on the absolute grounds of refusal is favourable, the Patent Office shall take a decision to register the trademark.”
If true, this could be why such a significant number of Gleissner-related trademarks have also been filed in Benelux and the United Kingdom; both jurisdictions also examine marks only on absolute grounds. Of course, the Latvian marks are only registered if a rights holder does not lodge (and prevail in) an opposition – and the LRPV representative revealed that a huge number of challenges have been made against Gleissner marks. “Since summer 2016, the Latvian IP Board of Appeal has received more than 100 oppositions against the trademark applications of Grigorius Holdings and one against Fashion One Television so far. In all, the Board of Appeal has acknowledged 10 times that the application for a trademark registration received from Grigorius Holdings was made in bad faith in cases when the contested mark and the goods or services were identical to earlier trademark and goods and services.”
Reflecting on the findings, Ruta Olmane, associate partner at Metida, states that “everyone dealing with IP matters in Latvia has noticed” and that generally feelings are mixed about it. “Yes, owners of earlier trademarks are now forced to spend resources for invalidation of these trademarks. In the meantime, from a statistical data viewpoint, these are very positive changes in terms of Latvian national trademark filings.”
The latter point cannot be overstated. According to TMview, the LRPV received 1,986 trademark applications in 2018. Of that total, 792 were from either Grigorius Holdings or Fashion One Television. Therefore, nearly 40% of all trademark applications filed in Latvia last year originated from entities related to Gleissner. What is more startling is that that percentage was even greater in the first month of this year (see Table 1).
Table 1: Percentage of trademarks filed in Latvia by Gleissner-related entities (2014-2019)
Total trademark applications in Latvia
Trademark applications filed by Grigorius Holdings
Trademark applications filed by Fashion One Television
Percentage of trademark applications from Gleissner-related entities
1-28 January 2019