Bulgarian Tea Importer and Distributor Fined for Unfair Competition

May 29 2012 - 14:45

On March 12, 2012, the Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic of Bulgaria (SAC) upheld Bulgaria’s Commission for Protection of Competition (CPC) decision against Bulgarian tea importer and distributor Micra-AIA, from the city of Haskovo, southern Bulgaria, who copied its competitor’s packaging.

The plaintiff, Solotex-Lubomir Hristov, claimed that the defendant, Micra-AIA, designed its two black Ceylon tea packages, Plantation Fresh Brand and Plantation Fresh, as a copy of plaintiff’s packages, Emona Brand and Resh, which have been present on the Bulgarian market since 2001.

On February 8, 2011, the CPC issued the decision against Micra-AIA on the grounds of Article 35, Paragraph 1 of the Law on Protection of Competition. This provision prohibits the offering of goods or services whose appearance, packaging, marking, name or other features deceive or may lead to deception with respect to their origin, manufacturer, seller, method and place of manufacture, the source and manner of acquisition or purpose, the quantity, quality, nature, consumer properties and other substantial characteristics of the goods or services.

The CPC imposed a EUR 32,760 (USD 43,205) fine on Micra-AIA as well as two fines amounting to EUR 511 (USD 674) each, to Slavcho Angelov, the manager of Micra-AIA, and Hristo Hristov, who initiated the registration of the infringing package designs before the Bulgarian PTO.

Comparing the appearance of tea packages produced by the plaintiff and the defendant, the CPC found phonetic similarity between the products, namely in the use of the word element “brand” on both products and the similarity between word elements “fresh” and “resh”. Furthermore, the CPC established visual similarity between the packages of Plantation Fresh Brand and Emona Brand as both are orange with an image of a bird, while Plantation Fresh and Resh packages are both black with an image of a horse.

The CPC ruled that the defendant deliberately copied plaintiff’s packaging seeking to be associated with the plaintiff’s products, and thus misled consumers and built brand recognition on plaintiff’s reputation.

On the grounds of the above, the SAC upheld the decision of the CPC. The SAC’s decision is final and not subject to appeal.

Author: Valeri Penev

For more information, please contact Valeri Penev at our Bulgaria office.

Source: The Supreme Administrative Court of the Republic of Bulgaria (SAC) website

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