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‘Shuffling’ well-known trademarks

Januari 2019. Aikon: a new trademark for mobile phones. Ring a bell? It did with the Finnish mobile telephony giant Nokia, who claimed the name was stolen from them. Why? Because Aikon is Nokia spelled backwards!

Nokia vs Aikon

A trademark registration for the word Aikon was recently applied for in Europe by a Swiss firm, prompting Nokia to file an opposition. The Opposition Division of the European Trademark Office issued a ruling on 20 December.

No risk of confusion

The outcome was a bitter blow for the Finns, since EUIPO concluded that there was no similarity between Nokia and Aikon. It said the two trademarks were visually very different and neither sounded nor meant the same thing, so that there was no risk of consumers confusing the two.

Cosmetics brand ‘pulled’ following opposition from Nivea?

Nivea vs Vinea

Nokia countered by citing conclusions reached by EUIPO in previous cases, such as finding that Vinea was too similar to Nivea, that there was a risk of confusion between Airline and Railine and that Atlan and Talan were too alike. Based on these rulings, Nokia claimed, Aikon should also be regarded as infringing on Nokia’s trademark rights.

Non-comparable

But the Trademark Office replied that the cases were non-comparable. In all the examples cited, the suffix of each word was identical to that of its rival, which was not the case with Aikon. This was the crucial difference. All in all, then, there was no infringement, and the fact that Nokia was a wellknown brand made no difference, EUIPO concluded.

Leapp vs Apple

The case is reminiscent of the dispute between Apple and the Dutch second-hand computer seller Leapp, which is trading again following a recent bankruptcy. Leapp’s founders performed a similar letter-shuffling trick with the word Apple, which is a good move for a company supplying second-hand Apple products. A reliable source has told me that Apple considered instigating legal proceedings against Leapp, but ultimately chickened out. Which in view of the Nokia judgement was probably a sensible move.

Amup, Ekin and Mot-Mot

So if you’re thinking of doing business using an anagram of a well-known word mark, make sure you jumble the letters up well. In other words, you’ll probably get away with selling new trainers under the name Ekin or Amup, but marketing a satnav system under the name Mot-Mot or naming an airline company AB is highly likely to get you into trouble.

Bas Kist