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Volvo-backed Polestar temporarily banned from the French market over likelihood of confusion with Citroën’s logo.

How an ongoing trademark dispute denies a company the access to an entire territory

On June 4, 2020, the Third Chamber of the tribunal Judiciaire de Paris (Court of Justice of Paris) issued a ruling forbidding the Swedish company Polestar Holding AB to use its logo in France for six months after a period of three months following the publication of the judgment.

Background

Polestar is an automotive brand, owned by Volvo Cars and producing high-end electric performance cars. Polestar owns several trademark registrations for its logo, composed of two chrome chevrons facing each other forming a star, valid throughout the European Union, including France.

The French car brand Citroën has been trying to obtain cancellation of Polestar’s trademark registrations before the EUIPO, the European Union Intellectual Property Office. The applications for declaration of invalidity were based on Citroën’s earlier registered logotype, featuring two superimposed chrome chevrons, and claimed that there is a likelihood of confusion between the two logos.

The EUIPO decided on two occasions, in January 2020, that the signs were visually dissimilar and that therefore, there was no risk of confusion among customers. The EUIPO found notably that the logos differ in the way the chevrons are depicted, in particular their angle and direction. Being unsuccessful before the EUIPO and fearing the impending launch of Polestar cars on the French market, scheduled for the beginning of 2020, Citroën sought another legal way to protect its logo and brought an action against Polestar for trademark infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition.

The Court of Justice of Paris ruled

In essence that the signs being only vaguely visually similar, and the attention of the relevant consumer being high, it prevents a finding of likelihood of confusion between the trademarks. However, the Court decided that given the exceptional reputation of the Citroën brand among French consumers, and based on evidence presented by Citroën showing comments from Internet users noticing similarities between the logos, there is a risk that consumers may link both brands. The Court considered thus that Polestar takes undue advantage of Citroën’s repute and infringes Citroën’s trademarks.

It is interesting to point out that the Court decided that the use of the Polestar logo in France constitutes an infringement to Citroën’s brand, while ruling that there is no likelihood of confusion between the trademarks.

In the case at stake, it is the reputation of the Citroën trademark that causes the trademark infringement, as the visual similarity between the logos combined with Citroën's significant reputation would necessarily benefit Polestar. Despite the French Court’s judgment, the Polestar trademark registration is still valid in France, as the EUIPO has dismissed Citroën’s applications for cancellation of the trademark. It will be interesting to see if Citroën files an appeal to these decisions before the Appeal Board of the EUIPO.

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