In September 2017 the District Court of The Hague (C/09/520643/HA ZA) held that there was no likelihood of confusion between SINA rice and SITA rice. This decision was somewhat remarkable considering earlier decisions on similar comparisons between four-letter signs relating to foodstuffs.
The reason for denying likelihood of confusion lies in the assumption that the relevant public will perceive a strong conceptual dissimilarity between the signs. According to the court, the relevant public in this instance had an Islamic background and lived in parts of Africa and Asia, including Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan, and displayed a high level of attention regarding rice. ‘Sina’ refers to a male Islamic scholar, whereas ‘Sita’ is associated with a female name and the female mythical figure Sita.
High attention level
The court held that the relevant public had a high level of attention regarding the goods in question – an interesting conclusion given that a high degree of attention is usually connected with expensive, infrequent and potentially hazardous purchases. Typical examples are cars or diamonds – products with little similarity to rice. Rice is generally considered to be an inexpensive product, purchased on a regular basis. Nevertheless, the court held that the relevant public in question had a high degree of attention because the rice was bought only after obtaining advice and information from the seller and acquaintances. The rice in question was imported from countries such as Afghanistan, Pakistan and Iran, and sold mainly in local specialty shops. Further, poor-quality rice would be considered shameful in the Islamic cultures of Africa and Asia, including those in Afghanistan, Iran and Pakistan.
Relevant public has Islamic background
The District Court of The Hague held that the relevant public for this specific rice had an Islamic background. However, the connection between religion and rice could be a little far-fetched. Christians, Hindus and Buddhists eat rice as well (as do atheists) and can easily purchase this product in exactly the same specialty shops. Unlike (for example) halal meat, there is no clear religious connection to rice. Following the court’s ruling, the relevant public for pasta might be people with a Catholic background in parts of Europe, such as Italy.
A particular rice might be produced for a specialised public. However, the religious – in particular Islamic – connection seems implausible, particularly as the court contradicted itself by referring to the conceptual meaning of Sita as the female mythical figure for this public – Sita is in fact a Hindu goddess.
This decision demonstrates that the relevant public in question can have a high degree of attention, even if the goods in question are neither expensive nor (at first sight) special purchases. However, the court’s reasoning in this case seems shaky at best. It is debatable whether this decision would stand in higher instances.
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