IP Cases & Articles

Galileo v European Union [2011] EWHC 35 (Ch)

Galileo was an Italian physicist, mathematician, astronomer and philosopher who played a major role in the Scientific Revolution. He made a number of contributions to what is now known as technology, which is ironic given the goods and services in question in this case. It concerned Galileo International Technology LLC (Galileo International), which has no connection with the great man himself, albeit in name.

On the other side was the European Union (formerly the European Community), an economic and political union of 27 member states. It has the right to bring an action in trade mark proceedings like any other party. Mr Justice Floyd, in the Chancery Division of the High Court of England and Wales, delivered a judgment in which he made note of the fact that no point was taken about this “somewhat unusual party”. However, the reason for this is most likely that there was a historical conflict between the parties that Mr Justice Floyd was unaware of. The conflict began in 2002 when the European Community filed a mark (below) containing the prominent word GALILEO, a logo to be used in conjunction with a multi-billion Euro Global Navigation Satellite System project, also named GALILEO (after the famous Italian), which is currently being built by the European Union (EU).

This case concerned an appeal from Galileo International against the decision of Hearing Officer Mr David Landau of the Intellectual Property Office to revoke one of their GALILEO word only marks and partially revoke two others (in relation to computer hardware and computer software goods and services in Classes 9 and 42) under section 46(1)(a) Trade Marks Act 1994 (the Act) on the ground of non-use.

Galileo International claimed to have used its GALILEO marks sufficiently to maintain all of the registrations and submitted supporting evidence. This consisted mainly of a large number of documents that apparently lacked clarity and specificity in relation to date, jurisdiction and the exact nature of the goods and services in relation to which Galileo International claimed the mark had been used.

The Appeal was brought under section 76 of the Act and Mr Justice Floyd emphasised the fact that, according to past decisions and principles, he was reluctant to interfere in the decision of the Hearing Officer unless he was satisfied that an error of principle had been made. Indeed, Galileo International claimed that the Hearing Officer had applied the incorrect legal standard to his assessment of the evidence in relation to genuine use by imposing a quantitative, rather than qualitative threshold. Mr Justice Floyd held that this was simply not the case. He could see nothing in the decision to suggest that a special standard had been applied to the Hearing Officer’s evaluation of the evidence. He was simply making the best of the difficult circumstances presented by the manner in which Galileo International’s evidence was prepared, to determine the extent of the use that had been made of the mark.

Further, in relation to the two partially revoked marks, Galileo International submitted that the pleading extended only to the entire specification of goods under section 46(1)(a) of the Act. Indeed, no mention was made in the application for revocation of section 46(5) relating to the possible revocation where grounds only exist in relation to some of the goods and services. Mr Justice Floyd commented that “An applicant for revocation who believes that a mark had not been used at all within the relevant period in relation to any of the goods or services for which it is registered is entitled to plead that case…it is for the proprietor to plead what use it had made of the mark” noting that the burden of proving use was on the proprietor under section 100 of the Act. Mr Justice Floyd said that in this case Galileo International should have been well aware that all of the goods and services which had not been put to genuine use were vulnerable.

The vital importance of procedural fairness was noted and this had to be ensured in all proceedings, particularly where a hearing officer "ventilates possible restrictions to a specification at a hearing which had not previously been addressed in writing. A party who was faced with a restriction which took it by surprise…needed time to ensure that an adequate opportunity was provided to deal with it.” Indeed, Galileo International was given four weeks to suggest alternative specifications for its registrations, based on the findings; however, they failed to submit any. The Hearing Officer had not excluded the possibility of further evidence being adduced or of a widening of the specification.

Subsequently, the Appeal was dismissed except for what Mr Justice Floyd described as a “very limited point”, where the specification of the Class 42 registration was to be re-worded to include "consultancy in the field of computer hardware". This is unlikely to have softened the blow to Galileo International.

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