Starbucks CTM Declared Invalid

Starbucks (HK) Ltd v British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc

Starbucks HK Ltd lost an appeal this month against a decision dismissing its action for passing off and trade mark infringement for the CTM ‘NOW’, they also lost an appeal against the granting of a counterclaim to the media company Sky Broadcasting Group for invalidity of their CTM.

The Background

Starbucks had generated goodwill in Hong Kong in relation to its online television service and intending to break into the U.K market, registered the CTM ‘NOW TV’.

Sky later declared it intended to launch a new, stand-alone, internet based television service in the UK called ‘NOW TV’. In response, Starbucks decided to bring an action for passing off and trade mark infringement, Sky then counterclaimed for invalidity of the CTM.

The Appeal

In the appeal Starbucks argued that the judge was wrong to have found:

  1. The sign invalid.
  2. That they had not generated protectable goodwill in the U.K.

Starbucks claimed that although the goodwill it had generated in relation to its trade mark originated from consumers in Hong Kong, it had spread geographically to Chinese-speaking residents in the U.K.

The appeal was dismissed on the following grounds:

  1. The judge was correct to have found that the word ‘Now’ was a descriptive characteristic of the service on which they intended to use the mark, therefore the mark could not be validly registered.
  2. In relation to the passing off, the goodwill acquired was insufficient, what had to be shown was that the goodwill acquired by Starbucks was in relation to the jurisdiction of the court i.e. the U.K.

The Court commented that it was possible to establish goodwill in the supply of a service, even if the service was made available for free and further, even if the service was supplied to a section of the public that was a foreign speaking ethnic minority.


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