Breaking news – Amazon repelled an attack by Coty after an EU Court decision

photo-1522780550166-284a0288c8dfThe European court has ruled in the case C‑567/18 Coty Germany GmbH  v Amazon. The case concerns the following background:

Coty, a distributor of perfumes, holds a licence for the EU trade mark DAVIDOFF registered under No 876 874 (‘the mark at issue’), which enjoys protection for ‘perfumes, essential oils, cosmetics’.

Amazon Services Europe enables third-party sellers to place offers for sale in respect of their goods in the ‘Amazon-Marketplace’ section of the website http://www.amazon.de. In the event of sale, contracts concerning those goods are concluded between the third-party sellers and the purchasers. Those third-party sellers may also avail themselves of the ‘Fulfilment by Amazon’ scheme, under which goods are stored by Amazon group companies, including Amazon FC Graben, which operates a warehouse. Those goods are dispatched by external service providers.

On 8 May 2014 one of Coty’s test purchasers ordered on the website http://www.amazon.de a bottle of ‘Davidoff Hot Water EdT 60 ml’ perfume that was offered for sale by a third-party seller (‘the seller’) and dispatched by the Amazon group under that scheme. After Coty sent a letter of formal notice to the seller on the ground that the rights conferred by the mark at issue were not exhausted in respect of the goods consigned by the seller to Amazon FC Graben under that scheme, those goods not having been put on the market in the European Union under that trade mark by the proprietor or with its consent, the seller signed a cease-and-desist declaration, coupled with a penalty clause.

By letter of 2 June 2014, Coty requested Amazon Services Europe to return all the bottles of perfume bearing the mark at issue stocked on behalf of the seller. Amazon Services Europe sent Coty a package containing 30 bottles of perfume. After another company belonging to the Amazon group informed Coty that 11 out of the 30 bottles sent originated from another seller’s stock, Coty requested that Amazon Services Europe disclose the name and address of that other seller, as the rights conferred on 29 out of the 30 bottles by the mark at issue had not been exhausted. Amazon Services Europe replied that it was not in a position to accede to that request.

Taking the view that Amazon Services Europe’s conduct, on the one hand, and that of Amazon FC Graben, on the other, infringed its rights in the mark at issue, Coty requested, in essence, that those two companies be ordered, subject to penalties, to desist, in the course of trade, from stocking or dispatching ‘Davidoff Hot Water’ brand perfumes in Germany, or from causing them to be stocked or dispatched, if those goods were not put on the Union market with Coty’s consent. It requested, in the alternative, that the same order be made against those companies in relation to ‘Davidoff Hot Water EdT 60 ml’ brand perfumes and, in the further alternative, that the same order be made against them in relation to ‘Davidoff Hot Water EdT 60 ml’ brand perfumes which have been stored on behalf of the seller or which cannot be attributed to another seller.

The Regional Court, Germany dismissed the action brought by Coty. The appeal brought by Coty was dismissed, with the court of appeal holding, inter alia, that Amazon Services Europe had neither stocked nor dispatched the goods concerned and that Amazon FC Graben had kept those goods on behalf of the seller and other third-party sellers.

Coty brought an appeal on a point of law (Revision) before the referring court. Only Amazon Services Europe and Amazon FC Graben are respondents before that court.

The referring court states that whether that appeal is successful, in so far as Coty disputes the court of appeal’s finding that Amazon FC Graben is not liable as a perpetrator of an infringement of trade mark rights, depends on the interpretation to be given to Article 9(2)(b) of Regulation No 207/2009 and Article 9(3)(b) of Regulation 2017/1001.

In particular, it emphasises that whether the appeal on a point of law is successful depends on whether those provisions are to be interpreted as meaning that a person who, on behalf of a third party, stores goods which infringe trade mark rights, without having knowledge of that infringement, stocks those goods in order to offer them or put them on the market for the purposes of those provisions, even if it is only the third party who intends to offer those goods or put them on the market.

The referring court also states that, since Coty bases one of its claims on the risk of a repeat infringement, its action is well founded only if the conduct of the Amazon group companies in question is established to be unlawful both at the material time in the main proceedings and when the decision on the appeal on a point of law is issued.

In those circumstances, the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice, Germany) decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following question to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘Does a person who, on behalf of a third party, stores goods which infringe trade mark rights, without having knowledge of that infringement, stock those goods for the purpose of offering them or putting them on the market, if it is not that person himself but rather the third party alone which intends to offer the goods or put them on the market?’

The Court’s decision:

Article 9(2)(b) of Council Regulation (EC) No 207/2009 of 26 February 2009 on the [European Union] trade mark and Article 9(3)(b) of Regulation (EU) 2017/1001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2017 on the European Union trade mark must be interpreted as meaning that a person who, on behalf of a third party, stores goods which infringe trade mark rights, without being aware of that infringement, must be regarded as not stocking those goods in order to offer them or put them on the market for the purposes of those provisions, if that person does not itself pursue those aims.

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