Trade marks with geographical connotations

/ Elise Bruce / Articles

When choosing a trade mark, keep in mind that marks with geographical connotations can be difficult to protect and enforce.

This case illustrates that even trade marks with references to former geographical locations can be problematic, particularly if that area was and still is well-known as a source of particular products.

The relevant geographical location in this case is the area in the Czech Republic which was formerly known as “Bohemia”. The parties involved in the dispute both distributed crystal-ware and glassware in Australia under different “Bohemia” brands: Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd under the name “Bohemia”, and Host Corporation Pty Ltd under the name “Banquet Crystal by Bohemia”.

Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd claimed that, by selling products under the “Banquet Crystal by Bohemia” brand, Host had engaged in misleading or deceptive conduct and infringement of the following Australian Trade Mark Registrations:

  • 891129 for the words “BOHEMIA CRYSTAL” covering “glassware being tableware, stemware and decorative items including crystal glass figurines, glass jewellery holders and trophies” in class 21, and
  • 952530 for the word “BOHEMIA” covering “glass and glassware, crystal and crystal ware of all kinds not included in other classes including vases, figurines, bowls, wine glasses, goblets, drinking glasses, ornaments, giftware, decorated glass, painted glass; china, porcelain and earthenware” in class 21.

In response, Host Corporation Pty Ltd claimed that Registration Nos. 891129 and 952530 should be cancelled pursuant to sections 41 and 88 of the Trade Marks Act 1995 (Cth). Host Corporation Pty Ltd argued that both “BOHEMIA CRYSTAL” and “BOHEMIA” were too descriptive to be registered as trade marks, given that these marks incorporated the name of a former geographical location that was, and still is, particularly well-known for the type of goods covered.

Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd did not dispute that the former area of “Bohemia” was previously known as a source of high quality glassware and crystal products. However, Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd argued that when seeing products labelled with their “BOHEMIA” and “BOHEMIA CRYSTAL” trade marks, ordinary consumers were more likely to think of the “artistic or conventional” Bohemian lifestyle than the former geographical location.

The Court accepted that “Bohemia” could be defined as either (1) the name of a former geographical location in the modern Czech Republic, or (2) a mythical place from which people who “adopt an unconventional lifestyle”, ie “Bohemians”, live or originate. However, in the context of crystal-ware and glassware, the Court held that only the first definition was relevant. The Court noted that, when seeing glassware and crystal products labelled with the “BOHEMIA” and/or “BOHEMIA CRYSTAL” trade marks, both ordinary consumers and other traders were only likely to think of “Bohemia” as “a region from where glassware is manufactured” given the history and reputation of that location as a place of manufacture of quality crystal-ware and glassware. The Court also noted that “BOHEMIA CRYSTAL” may suggest a “style of glassware” originating from Bohemia to some traders and consumers. In light of this, the Court held that both “BOHEMIA” and “BOHEMIA CRYSTAL” were not distinctive enough to be registered as trade marks and, consequently, Bohemia Crystal Pty Ltd’s Trade Mark Registration Nos. 891129 and 952530 were cancelled and they could not prevent Host Corporation Pty Ltd from continuing to use the “Bohemia” name.

Take-home message: trade marks with geographical connotations can be difficult to protect and enforce and we would recommend selecting alternative marks. However, if you still wish to use a trade mark which has geographical connotations, consider incorporating a more distinctive element.