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A Case Analysis of Arabic Trademarks in Türkiye: Letters Matters

Trademarks including letters from other alphabets are usually an issue during the similarity evaluations. In Türkiye, the registry of the Turkish Patent and Trademark Office (Türkpatent) contains many trademark applications and registrations that include or are solely composed of Chinese, Russian, Japanese, but primarily Arabic characters



When it comes to assessing the similarity of brands containing Arabic letters, we can say that the Türkpatent generally does not consider the pronunciation of Arabic letters or the meanings of Arabic words, treating these letters/words as mere visual elements. Thus far, in the decisions received from Türkpatent through opposition processes, we see that the phonetic pronunciation or meanings, if any, of Arabic letters or words in the trademark examples are not given much consideration, likely due to the general Turkish consumer base not being familiar with Arabic. Recently, however, the Re-Examination and Evaluation Board (REEB) affiliated with Türkpatent rendered a decision that contradicts this general stance, signifying a reversal in their approach.


I would like to leave a small note here. For those who may not know, the official language of Türkiye is Turkish, and it is written using the Latin alphabet. What's more, it has been this way for a solid 96 years! Unless a Turkish person takes a special interest and learns Arabic script on their own, they wouldn't recognize Arabic letters and wouldn't speak the language since both languages are entirely different. However, as it is known, Türkiye opened its doors to numerous immigrants as well as the refugees from the Arabic peninsula in the last decade. This population started running businesses on different scales and it brings a significant number of trademark applications in which Arabic characters are used as a logo. Not only this but also the increasing commercial interest of Arabic people settled in their own countries to Türkiye led us to see the rising amount of the Arabic applicants in the Trademark Bulletins.


In the case at hand, the story unfolds as follows: Our Arab client has a quite old trademark consisting solely of Arabic letters, let's say "أ ب ج د" (we can't refer to trademarks explicitly from here on). The applicant, on the other hand, has a trademark sample where they use some of descriptive elements alongside a visual element, and in this trademark, the dominant and principal element used is the "ABCD" phrase written in Latin letters. In an unsurprising manner, when the phrase "أ ب ج د" is read in Arabic, its phonetic equivalent in Latin letters in Turkish corresponds to the "ABCD" phrase. Therefore, we're talking about trademarks that do not visually resemble each other but are phonetically identical. Meanwhile, the scope of the classes in question completely overlaps.


As a result of our monitoring, we detected and opposed the trademark on behalf of our client at the Türkpatent citing the likelihood of confusion. The initial decision-making body, the Trademarks Department, rejected our opposition. Subsequently, we appealed this opposition at the REEB which is the highest and final decision-making body. The Board overturned the decision of the Trademarks Department and ruled that the trademarks are indeed similar.


The decision contains some crucial statements. The Board extraordinarily stated that “…it has been determined that the trademark belonging to the opponent is read as " ABCD " in Latin letters, that they are similar to the trademark that is the basis of this application in terms of the Arabic-speaking consumer segment in Türkiye and that the trademark in question covers the same or the same type or similar goods.”.


Considering the reverse decisions we've previously obtained, we may see the situation also like this: This once, Türkpatent has found the probability of the Arabic-speaking consumer segment in Türkiye, which is not the dominant group, recognizing Latin letters to be higher than the probability of the dominant Turkish segment recognizing Arabic letters. Türkpatent thought that the Arabic-speaking consumer segment, which recognizes Latin letters, could establish an economic connection between the brands due to the similarity of the trademarks and and so rejected the trademark application.


We will follow whether the applicant will carry this decision to court or not. However, in any case, this favorable decision we have obtained will serve as an important precedent for future cases.

 

Esra Böğürcü Süngerli

Trademark Attorney

09.04.2024

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