Published: 08:29, 26 March 2012
Volkswagen lost its battle today to stop Suzuki using the familiar "GTI" tag on one of its car models.
VW appealed when the EU's trademark office (OHIM) rejected the company's complaint that the SWIFT GTi name that Suzuki wanted to register would cause confusion with the celebrated Golf GTI, hailed in the 1970s as the first "hot hatchback".
But today's ruling from the European Court of Justice backed the OHIM in declaring that the public would not be confused - particularly as car makers including Rover, Peugeot, Citroen, Nissan, Mitsubishi, and Toyota have all used the term GTI on some models.
The judges said: "There is no likelihood of confusion between that trademark and the earlier trademarks 'GTI' held by Volkswagen."
Suzuki applied for the SWIFT GTi trademark in 2003, but VW pointed out that it had the rights to the term "GTI" in countries including Sweden, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, Italy, France and Austria.
Today's judgment said the most distinctive part of the name Suzuki wanted to use was the word "SWIFT", rather than "GTi".
The trademark office had been right in its original decision that "any similarity between those marks in view of the combination of the letters 'gti' ... would be largely if not entirely countered by the fanciful model name SWIFT appearing in the initial part of the mark applied for".
In legal terms, confusion between trademarks occurs if "the public might believe that the goods in question come from the same undertaking or from undertakings which are economically linked".
Given the already widespread use of the letters "gti" by car makers, the term had "only an extremely low degree of inherent distinctiveness for the general public".
The judgment concluded: "The average consumer in Sweden, the Benelux, Germany, France, Italy and Austria would not assume that all vehicles, parts and accessories come from the same manufacturer simply on the basis of the combination of the three letters 'gti' and accordingly any likelihood of confusion is excluded."