by Teo Bong Kwang and Eugene Ee
In Shizens Cosmetic Marketing (M) Sdn Bhd v LVMH Perfumes and Cosmetics (M) Sdn Bhd (Kuala Lumpur High Court Civil Suit No WA-24IP-21-11/2017), the local company of luxury goods producer LVMH was faced with a trademark infringement suit in respect of its line of products known as “Dior Addict Lip Tattoo” in Malaysia. However, the fame and strength of its DIOR mark helped LVMH to ward off the action brought against it.
Shizens, a local cosmetics manufacturer, is the registered proprietor of the LIP TATTOO mark in Class 3 for, among others, cosmetics, make-up preparations and lipsticks. Shizens instituted proceedings against the local chapter of LVMH on the basis that LVMH’s use of the DIOR ADDICT LIP TATTOO mark infringed its LIP TATTOO mark. LVMH launched a counterclaim to remove the LIP TATTOO mark from the Register of Trademarks on the grounds that the words ‘lip tattoo’ were, among other things, not invented words, which is a ground for removal.
High Court decision
The Intellectual Property High Court of Kuala Lumpur disagreed with LMVH’s contention that the LIP TATTOO mark had been wrongly registered. It held, among other things, that the words ‘lip tattoo’ are newly coined words, which are not generic and are not commonly used words that have no obvious meaning until a meaning is assigned to them. In the circumstances, the LIP TATTOO mark could not be removed from the register as it consisted of “invented words” within the meaning of Section 10(1)(c) of the Trademarks Act.
However, Shizens’ success in resisting LVMH’s application for removal or expungement was meaningless as the court did not rule in its favour on the issue of trademark infringement. In essence, the court did not agree with Shinzens that there was a likelihood of confusion between LVMH’s mark and the LIP TATTOO mark. The court took the following stand on the issue of the likelihood of confusion between the marks:
- The presence of the identical word ‘lip’ in the competing marks was inconsequential given that the registration of the LIP TATTOO mark was subject to a disclaimer whereby the registration did not give any right to the exclusive use of the word ‘lip’;
- The LVMH products, including the Dior Addict Lip Tattoo products, have a relatively better reputation than the Shizens products;
- The competing marks are phonetically and visually different;
- The Shizens and LVMH products are sold via different trade channels, in that the latter’s products are sold in boutique outlets in leading department stores, while the former’s products are sold at ‘Shizens’ counters; and
- Consumers of cosmetic products are generally better informed and more discerning.
Further, it was held that LVMH did not use the words ‘lip tattoo’ as a trademark. Instead, the word or mark DIOR was found to be the indicator of origin of LVMH’s products, including the Dior Addict Lip Tattoo products.
One of the central issues in this case was what constitutes trademark use. The court held that LVMH’s use of the words ‘lip tattoo’ does not amount to use as a trademark, as the words are prefixed by LVMH’s famous DIOR house mark. This reasoning seems wanting since ‘lip tattoo’, being a non-descriptive and non-generic word element, has no other apparent signification apart from the name of a product marketed by LVMH. This seems to contradict the court’s earlier pronouncement that the words ‘lip tattoo’ are invented words which are therefore capable of being registered as a trademark.
Further, it appears that the court placed great emphasis on the finding that the LVMH brand or products are relatively more famous than Shizens’ and that LVMH’s DIOR mark will distinguish it from Shizens’ LIP TATTOO mark. This seems to be a departure from the well-established principle laid down in Saville Perfumery Ld v June Perfect Ld ( RPC 147), where it was held that, once a mark has been shown to offend, the infringer cannot escape liability by showing that something outside the actual mark distinguishes the infringing goods from those of the registered proprietor.