Tests, well-known trademarks and a European Court decision

pexels-photo-951233.jpegThe European Court has ruled in case C‑690/17 ÖKO-Test Verlag GmbH v Dr. Rudolf Liebe Nachf. GmbH & Co. KG. This case concerns the following:

ÖKO-Test Verlag is the owner of the following German and EU trademark for printed works and testing and information and consultation services.

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ÖKO-Test Verlag chooses different goods from the market and makes tests on them without consent from the relevant producers. After that, the results are published in the magazine issued by ÖKO-Test.

Sometimes these producers are invited to use the results from these tests for marketing purposes in which case they are allowed ÖKO-Test trademark on products’ packages under a license.

Dr. Liebe produces toothpaste. In 2005 this company signed a license agreement to use ÖKO-Test for its product which was subject to a test receiving a very good assessment.

In 2014, however, ÖKO-Test Verlag found that Dr. Liebe was still been using its trademark although that wasn’t allowed under the license.

Dr. Liebe disagreed and because of which a lawsuit followed.  The Oberlandesgericht Düsseldorf  raised the following questions to the European court:

‘(1) Is there an unlawful use within the meaning of Article 9 (1), second sentence, (b) of [Regulation No 207/2009] or the second sentence of Article 5 (1) (a) 95] where:

  • the individual mark is affixed to a product for which the individual mark is not registered,
  • in the course of trade, the affixing of an individual mark by a third party is perceived as a “test mark”, that is to say, the product is manufactured and marketed by a third party not under the control of the proprietor of the trademark, but the holder of the mark has tested this product for certain qualities and based on this it has indicated in the test mark a certain result such as assessment,
  • and the individual mark is registered in particular for “informing and consulting consumers on the choice of goods and services, in particular through the use of test and research results and quality assessments”?

2. If the Court of Justice answers the first question in the negative:

  • Is there an unlawful use within the meaning of Article 9 (1) (c) of [Regulation No 207/2009] and of Article 5 (2) of [Directive 2008/95] if:
  • The individual mark is only known as the test mark described in point 1, and
  • the individual mark is used by a third person as a test mark? “

The Court’s decision:

1. Article 9 (1) (a) and (b) of Council Regulation (EC) No 207/2009 and Article 5 (1) of Directive 2008/95 / EC must be interpreted as not authorizing the proprietor of an individual mark consisting of a test mark to opposes the affixing by a third party of a sign identical or similar to that mark on goods which are neither identical nor similar to the goods or services for which the mark in question is registered.

2. Article 9 (1) (c) of Regulation No 207/2009 and Article 5 (2) of Directive 2008/95 are to be interpreted as authorizing the proprietor of a mark consisting of a test mark, an individual mark with reputation to oppose the affixing by a third party of a sign identical with, or similar to, that mark to goods which are neither identical nor similar to those for which the mark in question is registered, provided that it is established that, by affixing this sign to the goods the third party takes unfair advantage of distinctive character or reputation of the same mark or damages the trademark without clear legal grounds for this. 

(Unofficial translation)
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