South Africa: When Is A Descriptive Mark Not A Descriptive Mark?

Last Updated: 11 April 2018
Article by Juel Barnett

This was the issue before the Supreme Court of Appeal in the matter between Dinnermates (Tvl) CC and Piquante Brands International & another 401/17) [2018] ZASCA 43 (28 March 2018).

The matter was an appeal against the decision of the Full Court upholding an opposition in terms of section 10(14) of the Trade Marks Act 194 of 1993 ("the Act") to the registration of the Appellant's trade mark applications for the mark PEPPAMATES in the face of the Respondent's PEPPADEW trade mark registrations.

Section 10(14) deals with marks which are identical or similar to an existing registered trade mark, filed in respect of the same or similar goods/services, and which are likely to deceive or cause confusion in the marketplace.

Both marks were filed in device format, i.e.:

The Respondents contended that the dominant element, PEPPA, which appeared in both marks was a distinctive element, as it did not appear in a dictionary (although the word PEPPADEW does, albeit with the " symbol). They maintained that there were thus two distinctive elements to their trade mark, namely the word PEPPA, which was combined with a side view of a single rounded pepper and stalk device.

Both the Court a quo and the full Court upheld the Respondents' contention that there was a high degree of similarity between the marks, such that when the words DEW and MATES were removed, there was a likelihood of confusion or deception.

The Appellant, however, argued that the word PEPPA is in common use, and is merely a variation of the word "pepper". It thus could not be considered distinctive or invented in respect of foodstuffs in general. In addition, the word/element PEPPA appeared in other trade mark registrations, some of which pre-dated the Respondents' marks. The elements MATES and DEW cannot simply be discarded or ignored, as they served to differentiate the respective marks.

Furthermore, the Respondents' device is simply a descriptive rendering of a sweet piquante pepper. The Court and full Bench had effectively granted the Respondents a monopoly in respect of a descriptive pepper device coupled with a descriptive word or element. This is analogous to, for example, a supplier of grapes not being able to use a device of a bunch of grapes alongside its name and trade mark.

The Court held that granting a monopoly in respect of the word or prefix PEPPA in effect would lead to the absurdity of including use of the word "pepper", which is in common usage. Even ordinary words such as "peppermint" could be affected by the monopoly.

In the seminal and oft-quoted Plascon-Evans Paints Ltd v Van Riebeeck Paints (Pty) Ltd 1984 (3) SA 623 (A), Corbett JA clearly stated that the main or dominant features of a mark, as well as the general impression and striking features, were all factors to be considered in deciding whether there was a likelihood of confusion or deception.

The ruling also enforced the judgment in Cochrane Steel Products (Pty) Ltd v M-Systems Group (1272/2016) [2017] ZASCA 189 (13 December 2017), in which the SCA held that the VU in the composite mark CLEARVU was a deliberate misspelling of the ordinary word "view", and that the Appellant's attempts to claim the word as an invented or coined word were not convincing. The SCA stated that the phonetic equivalent of a non-distinctive word is itself non-distinctive.

In upholding the PEPPAMATES appeal, Mathopo JA stated at paragraph [22]:

"[22] I agree with the appellant that PEPPA is an adaptation from the word pepper, obviously chosen because the product to which it was first attached was a pepper. Its use conjures up an image of a pepper. In conjunction with the pepper device, it will be understood as referring to a product with peppers. The distinctive element for trade mark purposes is therefore the suffix DEW, which is wholly different from MATES. Because 'PEPPA' phonetically sounds like 'pepper', the likelihood of confusion will not arise, especially if it is used in combination with another word such as DEW or MATES. There is equally no force in the argument that exclusivity in the word PEPPA lies in the combination of the mark with a pepper device. The word PEPPA cannot enhance in any way the exclusivity of the distinctiveness of the elements of the mark. To my mind the depiction of the pepper in the mark only serves to highlight the descriptive nature of PEPPA. A depiction of a pepper is, like the word itself, descriptive. PEPPA is not only a variant spelling of the word 'pepper' but is also applied to a wide range of products offered by various other parties throughout the world. If a monopoly is granted in respect of PEPPA it is hard to see how it would not extend to the use of pepper as a prefix, as in pepperoni, pepperpot (a West Indian stew), pepperwort or pepper sauce, all of which are in common usage. As the respondent's registration extends to confectionery peppermint would also be affected. But one cannot monopolise the commons of the English language in that way."

The SCA judgment therefore establishes, or confirms, that where the prefix or first element of a word is in common use, the suffix or last element can be the distinctive element for trade mark purposes.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Registration (you must scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions