UKIPO confirms bad faith in ‘Gleissner’ filing

Approximately 5% of all the live contested trademark cases before the UK IPO relate to ‘Gleissner’ filings, according to a recent ruling over the mark ‘Alexander’. This latest decision is good news for affected brand owners.

Paper Stacked Limited filed an opposition to a UK trademark filing for the mark ‘Alexander’ back in 2016. The applicant was CKL Holdings BV, a company owned by prolific domain owner and entertainment entrepreneur Michael Gleissner.

Paper Stacked filed substantial evidence showing the number of marks registered by companies owned or controlled by Mr Gleissner. In the opposition decision, Allan James noted that out of the 8 UK trademark applications filed by CKL Holdings, six were the subject of opposition proceedings (the usual opposition rate for published marks is 4.5%, according to the ruling).

Confirming bad faith

In respect of the bad faith claim under section 3(6), Mr James considered the leading authorities, including Red Bull GmbH v Sun Mark Ltd [2012] EWHC 1929 (Ch) and Chocoladenfabriken Lindt & Sprungli AG v Franz Hauswirth GmbH [2009] ECR I-4893, amongst others.

While the applicant was CKL Holdings NV and not Mr Gleissner personally, Mr James confirmed that as the sole director and controller of the applicant company, Mr Gleissner’s motives can be attributed to the applicant company.

Mr James held that Paper Stacked had presented a prima facie case that the contested mark is part of a block strategy intended to obtain financial benefit. Together with the evidence that none of the Gleissner marks appeared to have been used and the evidence that Gleissner companies have previously abused legal systems, he held that CKL Holdings had no intention of using the mark in accordance with its essential function. Following the General Court’s findings in EUIPO v Copernicus-Trademarks Ltd [Case T-82/14), an application made as part of a blocking strategy and with no intentions to use the mark, is an act of bad faith.

CKL Holdings appealed to the Appointed Person which was heard by Mr Geoffrey Hobbs QC.  The main appeal grounds of CKL Holdings are that the focus of the attention should upon the particular application to register a particular mark for particular goods specified in the case at hand. In addition, the company maintained that the bona fide intentions to use the mark should not be taken to establish a requirement for an intention to use a mark prior to the beginning or end of the five-year period of immunity from revocation for non-use.  

The Appointed Person was in agreement with the decision of Allan James and dismissed the appeal, rejecting the criticisms raised by CKL Holdings. At the end of his decision, he confirms that he was reinforced in his view by written observations filed on behalf of the Registrar for the purposes of the present appeal which noted (paragraph 26 of decision):

“(i) As of 30th November 2017, various legal entities of which Mr Michael Gleissner is a director, and which communicate from the same email address as the appellant in these proceedings, were a party to 97 live contested trade mark cases before the UK IPO.  This is about 5% of all the live contested trade mark cases before the UK IPO.

(ii) The volume and proportion of cases involving Mr Gleissner’s companies has reduced over recent months.  At one point they accounted for 8% of all the contested UK trade mark cases.

(iii) Although the various legal entities communicating from the above email address rarely file any factual evidence before the UK IPO, an unusually high proportion proceed to a final decision.  The registrar issued 42 final decisions in contested trade mark cases in Novamber 2017.  The various legal entities communicating from the appellant’s email address were a party to 8 (nearly 20%) of those decisions.”

As can be seen from the comments from the UK IPO and Mr Geoffrey Hobbs QC, this is not the first case involving a so-called Gleissner company. Mr Gleissner has some 1,200 UK companies and holds thousands of marks worldwide. It is disturbing that Mr Gleissner is party to some 5% of all contested applications before the IPO. Indeed, we act for brand owners affected by such applications.

There have been a number of decisions recently (e.g. SuperVivoVIVA), not to mention the numerous cancellation actions filed by Gleissner against Apple, Inc (now totalling some 70 applications) and the eight non-use revocation actions filed against British Airways.

In addition, back in November 2017, World Trademark Review, which has been closely monitoring Gleissner-related activity revealed that a fake website cloning the free trademark search tool TMView had been obtained and used by Gleissner, presumably on the basis of trolling words/key searches for new trademark applications.

UKIPO’s harder stance should help brand owners

The difficulty is the costs that clients have to incur in order to object to such applications. Decisions such as Alexander are good news for brand owners that are affected by the applications, as it shows an increasing intolerance at the tribunal for such behaviour. However, it still remains that brand owners are having to spend a lot of time and money going through the opposition process in order to get the applications refused. On the plus side, the UKIPO is starting to take a harder stance and decisions such as these show that they are not willing to have their filing systems abused.  

At present, we recommend remaining diligent on reviewing portfolios to ensure adequate protection is maintained and ensuring that there are domain and trademark watch services in place to monitor for third-party activity (not just Gleissner filings). Please contact us below for further advice or if you require any specific support. 

World Trademark Review continues to monitor the growing portfolio of Gleissner companies, and the full data can be found on its website, together with articles on its investigations and commentary on cases.

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