Whether Don Quijote de la Mancha relates to a PDO cheese?

pexels-photo-220112.jpegThe European Court has ruled in case C‑614/17 Fundación Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Protegida Queso Manchego v Industrial Quesera Cuquerella SL. This interesting case regards the issue of whether a geographical indication can be infringed by a graphical representation that can be related to it. In detail:

The Queso Manchego Foundation is responsible for managing and protecting the PDO ‘queso manchego’. On that basis, it brought an action against the defendants in the main proceedings before the Spanish court of first instance with jurisdiction to hear the case seeking a declaration that the labels used by IQC to identify and market the cheeses ‘Adarga de Oro’, ‘Super Rocinante’ and ‘Rocinante’, which are not covered by the PDO ‘queso manchego’, and the use of the words ‘Quesos Rocinante’ infringe the PDO ‘queso manchego’ because those labels and those words constitute an unlawful evocation of that PDO for the purpose of Article 13(1)(b) of Regulation No 510/2006.

The Spanish court of first instance dismissed that action on the ground that the signs and names used by IQC to market the cheeses which were not covered by the PDO ‘queso manchego’ were not visually or phonetically similar to the PDOs ‘queso manchego’ or ‘La Mancha’ and that the use of signs such as the name ‘Rocinante’ or the image of the literary character Don Quixote de La Mancha evoke the region of La Mancha (Spain) and not the cheese covered by the PDO ‘queso manchego’.

The Queso Manchego Foundation brought an appeal against that decision before the Audiencia Provincial de Albacete (Provincial Court, Albacete, Spain), which, by judgment of 28 October 2014, upheld the judgment at first instance. That court held that, for cheeses marketed by IQC which are not covered by the PDO ‘queso manchego’, the use of landscape and images typical of La Mancha on the labels of those cheeses leads consumers to think of the region of La Mancha but not necessarily of the cheese covered by the PDO ‘queso manchego’.

The applicant in the main proceedings brought an appeal against that judgment before the Tribunal Supremo (Supreme Court, Spain).

In its order for reference, the Tribunal Supremo (Supreme Court) sets out a number of factual considerations.

First of all, the referring court states that the word ‘manchego’ used in the PDO ‘queso manchego’ is the adjective which describes, in Spanish, the people and the products originating in the region of La Mancha. Next, it observes that the PDO ‘queso manchego’ covers cheeses made in the region of La Mancha from sheep’s milk in accordance with the traditional production, preparation and ageing requirements set out in the product specification of that PDO.

Moreover, the referring court states that Miguel de Cervantes set most of the story relating to the fictional character Don Quixote de La Mancha in the region of La Mancha. Don Quixote is also described by the referring court as having certain physical features and clothing similar to those of the character depicted on the figurative design on the label of the cheese ‘Adarga de Oro’. In that regard, the archaic word ‘adarga’ (small leather shield) is used in [Cervantes’] novel to describe the shield used by Don Quixote. In addition, the referring court notes that one of the names used by IQC for some of its cheeses is the name of the horse ridden by Don Quixote de La Mancha, namely ‘Rocinante’. The windmills which Don Quixote fights are a typical feature of the landscape of La Mancha. Landscapes featuring windmills and sheep appear on some of the labels used for the cheeses produced by IQC which are not covered by the PDO ‘queso manchego’ and in some of the illustrations on IQC’s website, which also advertises cheeses not covered by the PDO.

In those circumstances, the Tribunal Supremo (Supreme Court) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1) Must the evocation of a [PDO], prohibited by Article 13(1)(b) of Regulation No 510/2006 necessarily be brought about by the use of a name visually, phonetically or conceptually similar to the [PDO] or may it be brought about by the use of figurative signs evoking the [PDO]?

(2)  When the [PDO] is of a geographical nature (Article 2(1)(a) of Regulation No 510/2006) and when the products are the same or comparable, can the use of signs evoking the region with which a [PDO] is associated constitute evocation of the [PDO] itself, within the meaning of Article 13(1)(b) of Regulation No 510/2006, which is prohibited even when the user of those signs is a producer established in the region associated with the [PDO], but whose products are not protected by [that PDO] because they do not meet the requirements set out in the product specification, apart from the geographical provenance?

(3)  Must the concept of the average consumer who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect, to whose perception the national court has to refer in order to assess whether there is “evocation” within the meaning of Article 13(1)(b) of Regulation No 510/2006, be understood to cover European consumers or can it cover only consumers of the Member State in which the product giving rise to evocation of the protected geographical indication is produced or with which the PDO is geographically associated and in which the product is mainly consumed?’

The Court’s decision:

1.  Article 13(1)(b) of Council Regulation (EC) No 510/2006 of 20 March 2006 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs must be interpreted as meaning that a registered name may be evoked through the use of figurative signs.

2. Article 13(1)(b) of Regulation No 510/2006 must be interpreted as meaning that the use of figurative signs evoking the geographical area with which a designation of origin, as referred to in Article 2(1)(a) of that regulation, is associated may constitute evocation of that designation, including where such figurative signs are used by a producer established in that region, but whose products, similar or comparable to those protected by the designation of origin, are not covered by it.

3.  The concept of the average consumer who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect, to whose perception the national court has to refer in order to assess whether there is ‘evocation’ within the meaning of Article 13(1)(b) of Regulation No 510/2006, must be understood as covering European consumers, including consumers of the Member State in which the product giving rise to evocation of the protected name is made or with which that name is geographically associated and in which the product is mainly consumed.

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