Tag Archive for: trademark

2020-11-10 Driessen - Four Seasons- Hotel of tuincentrum?

Trade names: Four Seasons – hotel or garden center?

The importance of proper trade name protection, (also) as a trademark

Photograph: Chris McGrath/Getty Images/Twitter.

It was a historic weekend; Joe Biden beating President Trump in the U.S. presidential election on November 7, 2020. Of course, an endless amount of Tweets was published. For example, about the fact that at the time the media declared Biden President-elect, Trump appeared to be on the golf course. But the most remarkable story was that Trump’s campaign team had booked the Four Seasons (the famous luxury hotel chain, well known to everyone) for a press conference. Or at least, that’s what they thought.

The Guardian wrote an article about it and the Four Seasons Hotel in Philadelphia posted the following Tweet:

2020-11-10 Driessen - Four Seasons- Hotel of tuincentrum?

It turned out that the press conference was not booked at the luxurious hotel, but at a landscaping company with the same name – Four Seasons Total Landscaping. That led to confusion and many, many jokes. This location was in fact a parking lot located between a crematorium and a dildo store. Comedian Zack Bornstein, for example, twittered about the countless jokes he could make about this mistake:

2020-11-10 Driessen - Four Seasons- Hotel of tuincentrum?

Of course, the landscaping company itself reacted as well (see answer Tweet). Apparently, the company did not see any problem in accepting the reservation and receiving Trump’s campaign team for a press conference. The company is on the map at once and is now even selling all kinds of merchandise referring to the event, such as ‘MAKE AMERICA RAKE AGAIN’-stickers and ‘LAWN AND ORDER’-masks.

But how can it be that two companies use exactly the same name? Is that allowed from a legal perspective? Before being able to answer that question, we must first have a closer look at the protection one obtains with the use of a trade name.

Trade name

The trade name is ‘the name used for running a company’. This definition (free translation) comes from the (Dutch) Trade Name Act (Article 1). The right to a trade name therefore arises from the use of that name. Many entrepreneurs and companies mistakenly think that the right to a trade name already arises when the name is registered in the trade register of the Chamber of Commerce. This thought is not that odd, but it is not correct. The mere registration in the trade register does not confer any rights whatsoever. See also this earlier blog post (in Dutch).


It is not in itself forbidden to choose a trade name that is already being used by someone else. But there are limits. Article 5 of the (Dutch) Trade Name Act states:

‘It is forbidden to use a trade name which, prior to the company being run under that name, was already lawfully run by another party, or which deviates only slightly from that party’s trade name, in so far as, in view of the nature of the two companies and the location where they are established, confusion between the companies is deemed to take place at the public.’

Whether the use of a trade name infringes a prior used trade name thus depends on various factors. First of all, it must be checked whether the names are the same/similar, in addition to whether they are used for the same type of activities and, if so, whether the locations in which they are used overlap. If these three questions can be answered with ‘yes’, a fourth requirement must still be met: there must be a risk of confusion.

A risk of confusion is generally assumed if the first three requirements are met, but there are conceivable circumstances in which this is not the case, for example when entirely descriptive trade names are involved. As it stands now (November 2020), in the case of descriptive trade names, additional circumstances are required for concluding that infringement takes place. Whether this will continue to be the case is currently being examined by the Dutch Supreme Court. In any case, it helps in a legal conflict if you can show that there actual confusion takes place in practice. In case, for example, customers ask themselves whether the two companies bearing the same/a similar name are related to each other (indirect confusion) or if they think that one company is the other and vice versa (direct confusion).

In the Four Seasons case, something clearly went wrong and someone made a mistake because of the name.[1] Although both companies are ofcourse not active in the same industry (hotel vs. landscaping company), confusion can still arise because of the name. That will have to do with the fact that the Four Seasons Hotel Resorts is such a well-known name/chain and in fact a well-known brand.

Protection as a trademark

As a company you can rely on your trade name and the rights you build up with it, but that is not always enough. It is difficult to prove that there is a risk of confusion with another company bearing the same name if that company is active in a completely different industry, or in a completely different part of the country. Trade name protection only extends to those areas where a trade name has actually been used.

This is not the case where it concerns trademarks. As a general rule, trademark protection does not arise through use (with a few exceptions), but through the registration of a trademark. A trademark can be registered in certain countries/regions, such as the Benelux or the EU. It does not matter whether you also use your trademark in that entire area. In the first 5 years after registration of the trademark you don’t even have an obligation to use it: after those 5 years have expired, you must use the trademark for the products/services for which you have registered it, at least in part of the claimed area, otherwise you run the risk that your trademark will be declared lapsed. The protection itself extends to the entire area in which the trademark is registered though, despite the use in part of the territory.

With a registered trademark, one can prevent other companies from using an identical or similar trademark, both for the same products/services and for similar products/services. In the case of well-known trademarks, this protection is even broader. On the basis of a trademark with a reputation, the trademark owner will be able to act against identical and similar trademarks for similar and non-similar products or services, if the use takes unfair advantage of or is detrimental to the distinctive character or the reputation of the trademark. There must be a certain degree of similarity between the trademark with a reputation and the trademark under attack so that the relevant public establishes a link. The owner of a well-known trademark therefore enjoys a broader protection than the owner of a ‘regular’ trademark. See my previous blogpost for more information.

So it seems likely that the (well-known) Four Seasons hotel chain will be able to take action against other Four Seasons companies – hotel chains or not – especially if the name is (also) registered as a trademark.

However, companies should not only rely on the protection of a trade name under trade name law only, but also register the name as a trademark. This will lead to a much stronger position in case of a conflict.

[1] Unless, of course, it turns out to be a joke or fake news


In the practical handbooks for entrepreneurs ‘IE in Bedrijf’ (IP in Business) one can read all about brands and infringement, with numerous practical examples. Part 1, IP in Business – Trademarks and trad names and part 6, IP in Business – Infringement of IP rights, handle the infringing use of trademarks and what trademark owners van do against it, but also what options there are to defend yourself against claims. The series is for sale at regular and online bookshops (for example: managementboek.nl) both in hard cover and eBook. For a (free) downloadable copy, please visit IP in Business. 


Trademark law: Citroën blocks Polestar

The power of (well-known) trademarks, the reputation of a French brand and its advantage in a French court

Foto: Steven Binotto (Unsplash)

Various newspapers and websites (e.g. here, here and herehave reported on the legal battle between the French company Automobiles Citroën and the Swedish Polestar (a Volvo brand). The first model of the relatively new Polestar brand – the Polestar 1 – was introduced in 2019, a hybrid sports car (see image below / source images: L’AutomobileMagazine). The Polestar 2 has now been introduced as well. Unlike the Polestar 1, this is a fully electric (family) car. The cars have been introduced and delivered in the Netherlands since August/September 2020. The reviews are promising and the Polestar 2 is generally rated even better than its major competitor and pioneer in the field of electric driving, Tesla.

In France, however, Polestar is forced to have its sales ceased, albeit temporarily. The French car company Citroën appears to have initiated legal proceedings because of the Polestar logo (see: logo on the right-hand side next to the Polestar car), which – in Citroën’s view – resembles its own logos too much (both logos below).

Top right: Polestar logo
Both logos below: Citroën-logos

Trademark rights Citroën

Citroën brought the case before Tribunal Judiciaire de Paris on the basis of its three French trademark registrations for the following logos, registered for (inter alia) cars:

Remarkably, Citroën has only registered these logos in France, not throughout the EU. A missed opportunity, because now Citroën can only take action against the use of infringing logos in France. With an EU registration, the car brand could obtain injunctions in all EU countries (even at the same time, through one court).

Consequently, Citroën’s trademark registrations can prevent the use by competitors in France of identical logos and of logos which are similar, provided that they are used for identical and/or similar products. The latter is not difficult to prove in this particular case: Polestar uses its logo for cars, i.e. identical products. That leaves the comparison of the logos themselves. Like Citroën, Polestar has registered its logo as well, not only in France, but in all EU countries: 

Citroën launched a nullity action against these two registrations because of the alleged confusion with its own logos. Citroën’s claim has been denied by the EU Trademarks Office (for the second logo see the decision here). An appeal is currently (November 2020) still pending.

French legal proceedings

Before the French court, Citroën had more luck. Citroën argued that the Polestar logos are very similar to its own. Visually, but also conceptually, the logos are very similar. The Citroën logo consists of two chevrons that fit together, while the two parts of the so-called chevron of the Polestar logo are placed on top of each other. The products offered with both competing logos – cars – are of course identical. Use of corresponding logos for identical products means that there is a risk of confusion among the relevant public. That public might think that Citroën and Polestar are economically linked, according to Citroën. Polestar – of course – does not agree. The logos do not resemble at all; Polestar’s logo reflects the ‘polestar’ while the relevant public, the car buying consumer and car salesman, is attentive enough not to link the brands.

Famous brand? Greater protection

On the basis of a trademark with a reputation, the proprietor of that trademark may take action against identical and similar marks for similar and non-similar products or services if use thereof takes unfair advantage of, or is detrimental to, the distinctive character or the repute of the trademark with the reputation. Being the proprietor of a trademark with a reputation, one has broader protection than the proprietor of an ‘ordinary’ trademark.

In determining whether a trademark is well-known, account must be taken of all the relevant circumstances, such as, in particular, the market share of the trademark, the intensity, geographical extent and duration of its use, and the extent of the investment made by the undertaking to publicise it, in accordance with the 1999 standard judgment of the EU Court of Justice in this field: The stronger the earlier mark’s distinctive character and reputation, the easier it will be to accept that detriment has been caused to it. There must be a certain degree of similarity between the trademark with the reputation and the trademark that is under attack, so that the relevant public establishes a link. This will more easily be the case than with the condition of likelihood of confusion, which is the criterion in the case of regular (not well-known) trademarks. Infringement will thus, in general, be accepted more easily in cases involving a trademark with a reputation than in cases involving a genuine trademark. And that is also what Polestar faced in the conflict with Citroën.

French company, French reputation, French protection

According to the court in Paris, the resemblance between the Citroën and Polestar logos is rather weak. However, the logos of the company Citroën, which exists for more than 100 years, are well-known in France. The 2CV is one of the best-selling cars. The Citroën cars are praised by the French court for their “advanced technology”. Citroëns have been widely used in films and every President of the French Republic since René Coty (French President from 1954 – 1959) has driven a Citroën (in the more expensive segment). In short: Citroën is part of the French history and culture. The French car brand is qualified as “exceptionelle” (still, according to the French court). Of course, a Swedish newcomer cannot compete with that.

The French Citroën logo has become very distinctive due to its longstanding and frequent use. In addition, the products of both car brands are identical (cars) and Polestar unmistakably also uses a chevron logo (although the two parts are positioned differently), according to the Court. Several websites refer to this and apparently link the Polestar logo to Citroën’s chevron, for example:” j’aime bien les chevrons Citroën du logo Polestar” (translation: “I really like the chevrons of Citroën in the Polestar logo”) (website: www.leblogauto.com). According to the French court, Polestar takes unfair advantage of the well-known Citroën logo and that is not permitted. In the French court decision of 4 June 2020 [1] Polestar has been ordered to pay a compensation of EUR 150,000 and has temporarily been banned from using the Polestar logo in France, which will take effect three months after the ruling and will remain in force for six months. Until the beginning of March 2021, Polestar will therefore not be allowed to sell cars under the Polestar logo in France, whereas the cars were due to be delivered there at the beginning of 2021. In the meantime, access to the Polestar website has been blocked for French visitors.

Á la fin

A fair verdict? In my opinion, no. Like Polestar, I really do not think that the logos are sufficiently similar and at no point did I make the link with Citroën. But, of course, I do not belong to the French people who grew up with the Citroën ‘chevrons’ either. I am curious to see how large Polestar’s market share in France will be once the ban has expired. The Polestar brand has a reputation already. In any case, I look forward to the end of the year, when I will be one of the lucky (Dutch) Polestar owners. Who knows, maybe I will take it for a ride to France…

[1] The pronunciation can be consulted in French, via Darts-ip: darts-362-138-J-fr.

In the practical handbooks for entrepreneurs ‘IE in Bedrijf’ (IP in Business) one can read all about brands and infringement, with numerous practical examples. Part 1, IP in Business – Trademarks and trad names and part 6, IP in Business – Infringement of IP rights, handle the infringing use of trademarks and what trademark owners van do against it, but also what options there are to defend yourself against claims. The series is for sale at regular and online bookshops (for example: managementboek.nl) both in hard cover and eBook. For a (free) downloadable copy, please visit IP in Business.