Squaring the circle with an 'R' in it

Ross Denton

That handy 'R' can now legally denote a trademark registered anywhere in the EC. This seems to alter Britain's 1938 Trade Marks Act.

In the recent Pall Corp V Dahlhausen case (Case 238/89), the European Court of Justice (ECJ) struck down a provision restricting the use of the "R" symbol in a circle, and again attempted to strike a balance in the unending struggle between free movement of goods and protection of intellectual property.

The case, decided in December 1990, concerned a German rule prohibiting the use of the letter "R" in a circle except in relation to trade marks registered in Germany. The "R" symbol has no specific legal meaning in Germany. However, it is used in a number of Member States (including the UK) to indicate that the trademark is registered.

Dahlhausen distributed blood filters in Germany imported from Italy. These displayed an Italian registered trade mark, "Miropore", followed by the letter "R" in a circle. Pall brought proceedings against Dahlhausen in Germany under the German law on unfair competition. Under this law, misleading indications as to the origin of the goods offered for sale were prohibited. Pall attempted to stop Dalhausen from using the "R" symbol on the grounds that the trade mark had not been registered in Germany, and that German consumers would think that it had.