Trade dress case dismissed for failure to comply with statute of limitations

The Warsaw Court of Appeal has dismissed an action for unfair competition filed by Croatian company Podravka and its Polish subsidiary Podravka Polska against Hungarian company Marina Maziarny, which sells a product equivalent to Podravka’s well-known Vegeta spice mix (Case I ACa 1270/10). The action was dismissed on the grounds that Podravka Polska had failed to bring an infringement action in a timely manner in order to enforce its trade dress rights.

Podravka claimed that the Hungarian company used images on the packaging of its product that were confusingly similar to those used by Podravka Polska for its own product (called Wegierska Virgin Przyprawka) for almost 20 years - namely, the image of a cook and several vegetables on a blue background.

The defendant claimed that this type of design was used by many spice producers and, therefore, was not distinctive. The defendant also claimed that, under the Polish unfair competition law, the statute of limitations for unfair competition claims is three years. It alleged that Podravka Polska had become aware of the infringement in 2003, but had not filed suit until 2008.

The court dismissed the action, but underlined that its decision applied only to Podravka Polska, as it could not be proven that Podravka was also aware of the alleged infringement as early as 2003. The court thus decided that this aspect of the case should undergo a more thorough investigation.

Jelena Jankovic, PETOŠEVIC, Belgrade

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