The need to exercise care in applying for trademarks has again been highlighted by a recent decision of the EU General Court in the case of Vince v EUIPO. Mr Vince, the founder and CEO of Ecotricity and champion of green energy filed an application for an EU trademark for ELECTRIC HIGHWAY in 2012 to cover services relating to the transmission, distribution and supply of electricity and hydro-electricity, storage, transportation and delivery of electricity and transmission and supply of electricity for vehicles. The brand is used by Mr Vince’s company in connection with the provision of an electric car-charging network at motorway stations across the country. 

His application for protection of the brand was rejected by the trademark examiner and an appeal to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) was filed in 2014. That appeal was dismissed in 2015 as the mark was a simple combination of words that would immediately be understood by owners of electric vehicles as describing a road with vehicle charging stations at regular intervals. The mark was ruled devoid of distinctive character and descriptive.

The EU General Court agreed with the Board of Appeal – the relevant public would understand the mark applied for to be descriptive of the services involved – and so dismissed the appeal and ordered Mr Vince to pay EUIPO’s costs.

Registration of a trademark would no doubt have been very valuable for Mr Vince and his Ecotricity business but marks that are descriptive or lack distinctive character are simply not registrable.