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Motorized ‘Beatle’ Chairs Would Confuse Consumers

(CN) - An eight-year battle to name electric mobility chairs "Beatle" ended Thursday, with the General Court of the European Union upholding the Fab Four's iconic trademark.

Handicare Holding BV, which is now known as You-Q, applied to the EU's Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market in January 2004 to use the Beatle name on its devices for people with reduced mobility.

Facing opposition from Apple Corps, a multimedia conglomerate founded by the Beatles in 1968, OHIM rejected You-Q's application in 2010. It said the company would take "unfair advantage of the repute and the consistent selling power of the marks of Apple Corps by using the mark applied for," the Luxembourg court said in a statement.

In upholding the OHIM decision Thursday, the General Court ruled that the trademark office was right to find that the two marks were "visually, phonetically and conceptually" similar, and that the rock group's trademark has "a very substantial reputation."

While the two companies offer very different products to different types of consumers through different sales channels, "there is an overlap between those two sections of the public, in so far as persons with reduced mobility are also part of the public at large and the goods bearing the earlier marks are therefore directed at such persons, who may therefore purchase those goods."

OHIM was correct "that the words 'beatles' and 'the beatles' have come to be associated by the public at large, in both the English-speaking part of the European Union and in many other parts of the European Union, with 'sound records, video records, [and] films' ... of the popular music group of the same name," the court said.

The two marks are so similar that, "when faced with the marks The Beatles or Beatles, the public at large, in particular in the non-English speaking states of the European Union, will immediately think of the eponymous group and, in particular, of the sound records, video records and films of that group." Thus, You-Q would take an unfair advantage of the name.

"It is correct ... that, while the goods are quite different, it is not altogether inconceivable that an association could be made between the signs at issue on the part of the relevant public and, even if there is no likelihood of confusion by the relevant public, be led to transfer the values of the earlier marks to the goods bearing the mark applied for," the court said. "The image portrayed by the earlier marks is, even after 50 years of existence, still synonymous with youth and a certain counter-culture of the 1960s, an image which is still positive and which could specifically benefit the goods covered by the mark applied for."

Since You-Q targets an elderly demographic, these clients were probably alive at the height of Beatlemania and "would be particularly attracted by the very positive image of freedom, youth and mobility associated with" Apple Corps' trademark, according to the court.

That image would enable You-Q to introduce its products in the marketplace while benefitting from the Beatles name and spending less on advertising than would otherwise be required for a new product launch, the court added.

You-Q has two months to appeal points of law only to the Court of Justice.

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