Trademark contrary to public policy: No trademark protection for "Cannabis"-signs at EU level

trademark law

EGC 12/12/2019, T-683/18,
Cannabis Store Amsterdam   

Under EU law, inter alia, the following signs are not to be registered as trade marks: "Trade marks which are contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality" (Article 7(1)(f) of Council Regulation (EC) No 207/2009). On this basis, registration of the device trademark "CANNABIS STORE AMSTERDAM" as an EU trademark was recently refused

Source: EU IPO database (EUTM 16 176 968)

by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) in respect of food, drink items and catering services (classes 30, 32 and 43).

The General Court of the European Union (EGC) has upheld this interpretation of the law: Although cannabis with a THC content below a certain threshold does not constitute a narcotic substance, the sign will be perceived in its entirety as referring to a narcotic substance (especially through the combination of the individual elements of the sign). The mark is therefore contrary to public policy because cannabis with a THC content above a certain threshold is illegal in many EU countries and tackling the spread of cannabis meets a public health objective.

The question remains whether, in conducting the official trade mark examination, it would have actually been necessary to rely upon an infringement of public policy. After all, words such as "cannabis", "pot", "weed" or "marijuana" are in any case often to be regarded as a descriptive reference to a possible ingredient that may be used in the manufacture numerous foodstuffs and certain beverages (Article 7(1)(c) of Council Regulation (EC) No 207/2009; see CFI 19/11/2009, T-234/06, Cannabis). Further, according to the case-law of the EUIPO, signs referring to a variety of marijuana or a constituent part of a cannabis plant are also excluded from registration as trade marks (see EUIPO Board of Appeal, 27/10/2016, R 1881/2015-1, KB KRITIKAL BILBO, and 25/10/2018, R 2333/2017-1, CHEESE).