A Polish court has ordered the owner of the Internetowykantor.pl and Walutomat websites (offering online currency exchange services) to apologize and pay compensation to Cinkciarz.pl (a company from Conotoxia Holding) and to donate an additional amount to charity. It must also refrain from any further illegal activities involving the use of its competitor’s name as keywords in Google Ads (previously AdWords). This is a ground-breaking judgment from a global perspective. Cinkciarz.pl was represented by SSW Pragmatic Solutions and SK&S law firms.
The case concerned the use of “cinkciarz”, “cinkciarz.pl” and similar words (including deliberate typos) as keywords to advertise a competitor’s websites in the Google Chrome search engine. Currency One continued these illegal activities despite receiving a pre-litigation notice, so in 2013 Cinkciarz.pl commenced litigation and obtained an injunction for the entire duration of the litigation. The respondent alleged that the “cinkciarz” trademarks were invalid, which triggered parallel proceedings before the Polish Supreme Administrative Court and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU).
– The key issue in the case was the respondent’s allegation that the word “cinkciarz” is descriptive of currency exchange services, and should not be registered as a trademark – comments Prof Ewa Skrzydlo-Tefelska, partner at SK&S law firm.
Cinkciarz.pl had already obtained a favourable judgment on this issue in parallel proceedings held before the Polish Supreme Administrative Court and the CJEU. Final and binding judgments from these courts confirmed that the Polish word “cinkciarz”, which was historically used to describe illegal activities, has no contemporary linguistic meaning, and is capable of being a business name and registered trademark.
– The respondent possessed lots of relevant evidence. This case demonstrates that legal tools are available in Polish civil procedure to ensure the effective disclosure of documents – notes attorney Maciej Zwolinski from SK&S.
On 25 May 2023, the court in Poznan (Poland) issued a judgment in which, among others, it:
- ordered Currency One to refrain from using the words “cinkciarz”, “cinkciarz.pl” and similar as keywords when defining advertisements in Google Ads, displayed on Google or other websites displaying Google ads, in all positive match types, as well as in the content of such advertisements, and to inform one of the national daily newspapers about this,
- ordered Currency One to publish and maintain continuously, for a period of 1 month, on its websites Internetowykantor.pl and Walutomat.pl, the following statement: “Pursuant to the final judgment of the District Court in Poznań of 25 May 2023, case file no. IX GC 1227/13, Currency One S.A., with its registered office in Poznań, apologizes to Cinkciarz.pl sp. Z o.o., with its registered office in Zielona Góra, for its unlawful use of the latter’s trademark and name in advertising campaigns conducted on the Internet, and apologizes to all persons who, as a result of these unlawful activities, may have been misled,”
- ordered Currency One to pay PLN 40,000 to a specified charity – the Book Institute in Krakow,
- ordered Currency One to pay Cinkciarz.pl over PLN 2 million (about 440.000 EUR, according to Cinkciarz.pl rates) as compensation, together with interest and reimbursement of 4/5 of Cinkciarz.pl’s litigation costs.
– We are happy to finally announce our victory. However, we will continue to seek a higher amount of compensation, to which we believe we are entitled. After all, we have endured many years of court battles and the unlawful marketing practices of our competitors. We are the leader in multi-currency exchange services in Poland, and we are not afraid of competition. Still, fairness is a condition for healthy competition – says Marcin Pioro, the founder and president of Cinkciarz.pl.
– Using a competitor’s trademarks or name to position websites on the Internet is quite common. Many businesses do not know how to defend themselves against this or consider it economically unreasonable. The judgment we obtained in the Cinkciarz.pl case shows how to pursue such claims and proves that a company that uses dishonest advertising need not go unpunished – explains attorney Janusz Mazurek, a partner at SSW Pragmatic Solutions.
This judgment confirms that it is illegal to use not only a competitor’s trademarks in Google Ads but also similar words, including deliberate typos (e.g. cinckcarz).
– This is a precedential ruling whose impact extends beyond Poland’s borders. So far, the level of monetary damages awarded in similar cases has been symbolic – stated Dr Filip Balcerzak, a partner at SSW Pragmatic Solutions.
The evidence in the case file consisted primarily of data obtained from the respondent, supplemented by information provided by Google (albeit Google ignored a second request to complete missing data). Additionally, several expert reports were prepared by leading specialists in computer science, economics and linguistics.
The judgment discussed here is not yet final.