Lego was accused of copyright infringement over a jacket design

As it is well-known copyright is one of the main intellectual property rights that every creator can rely on in order to benefit from his or her created works. The problem with copyright is that it can invoke really complex disputes out of nowhere.

One example of this possibility is a recent lawsuit against LEGO, a toymaker company whose practice is to use characters and stories from famous movies or series for kids constructors.

In the case at hand, the company uses a design of a jacket, known as the “Concannon Jacket”, worn by Antoni Porowski part of Netflix’s Queer Eye reality show.

James Concannon is the artist who created this design, giving Netflix permission to use it for the show.

According to him, however, LEGO has no authorization to use the jacket design for their toys “Queer Eye – The Fab 5 Loft”, which are based on the reality show’s characters.

LEGO dismissed this accusation claiming that they use legally the jacket at least because they had a license from Netflix which in turn had permission from the artist for the same jacket.

Obviously one of the center moments here is what was the scope of the initial license and whether it includes such merchandising use.

According to the US Copyright law, apparel is not copyrightable as a whole. Only separable creative elements of it can be protected.

So the issue here is to what extent the original jacket’s elements are subject to copyright protection alone and to what extent those used by LEGO are similar enough in order for infringement to be found.

Source: SS Rana & Co – Ananyaa Banerjee and Nitika Sinha for Lexology.

JUST EGG cannot be an EU trademark in relation to egg substitute

The Board of Appeal of the EUIPO has ruled in a case where the US company Eat Just, Inc. tried to register a European trademark for JUST EGG in class 29: Plant-based egg substitute; liquid egg substitute; plant-based processed food.

The EUIPO refused registration of the sign based on Article 7(1)(g) EUTMR (misleading character), in conjunction with Article 7(2), EUTMR for all the goods.

According to the Office, the English-speaking part of the European consumers will understand the sign as “merely/only egg”. This comes into conflict with the goods specified in the application which targets an egg substitute. So from that perspective consumers can erroneously assume, based on the meaning of the mark, that the goods under it are not plant-based where they will be such one.

The Board upheld this decision in its entirety.

This case shows clearly how important is for good preparation to be done before filing a trademark application. If there is a conflict between the brand name and the goods or services specified in the application the chances for refusal by the Patent Office will rise significantly.

Infringement of BMW wheel rims Community design – a European Court decision

The European Court has ruled in case C‑421/20 Acacia Srl v Bayerische Motoren Werke AG, which targets the issue of Community design enforcement and the applicable national jurisdiction. The case has the following background:

Acacia is a company incorporated under Italian law which produces, in Italy, wheel rims for motor vehicles and distributes them in a number of Member States.

Taking the view that Acacia’s distribution of certain wheel rims in Germany constitutes an infringement of a registered Community design of which it is the holder, BMW brought an action for infringement before a Community design court designated by the Federal Republic of Germany. That court declared that it had jurisdiction pursuant to Article 82(5) of Regulation No 6/2002. Acacia, in its capacity as defendant, argued that the wheel rims at issue are covered by Article 110 of that regulation and that there is therefore no infringement.

That court held that Acacia had committed the acts of infringement alleged by BMW, ordered that the infringement be brought to an end and, referring to Article 8(2) of Regulation No 864/2007, applied German law to BMW’s ‘supplementary’ claims seeking damages, the provision of information, the provision of documents, the surrender of accounts and the handing over of infringing products with a view to their being destroyed. On the basis of the rules contained in that national law, those claims were, in essence, upheld.

Acacia brought an appeal before the referring court. It disputes the existence of an infringement and takes the view, furthermore, that the law applicable to BMW’s supplementary claims is Italian law.

The referring court states that the jurisdiction of the Community design courts designated by the Federal Republic of Germany arises, in the present case, from Article 82(5) of Regulation No 6/2002 and that Acacia has committed the acts of infringement alleged by BMW.

However, it has doubts as to which national law applies to BMW’s supplementary claims. The referring court observes that the outcome of the dispute will, to some extent, depend on that question, since the rules of German law on the provision of documents and the surrender of accounts differ from those of Italian law.

That court considers that it could follow from Article 8(2) of Regulation No 864/2007, as interpreted by the Court in the judgment of 27 September 2017, Nintendo (C‑24/16 and C‑25/16, EU:C:2017:724), that Italian law applies in the present case. The referring court finds, in that regard, that the event giving rise to the damage is located in Italy, since the products at issue were delivered to Germany from that other Member State.

Nevertheless, the infringing products at issue in the main proceedings were sold in Germany and, to that end, were advertised online to consumers located in the territory of that Member State.

In those circumstances the Higher Regional Court, Düsseldorf, Germany decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘1. In proceedings for an infringement of Community designs, can the national court dealing with the infringement proceedings having international jurisdiction pursuant to Article 82(5) of [Regulation No 6/2002] apply the national law of the Member State in which the court dealing with the infringement proceedings is situated (lex fori) to [supplementary] claims in relation to the territory of its Member State?

2. If Question 1 is answered in the negative: Can the “initial place of infringement” for the purposes of the [Court in judgment of [27 September 2017, Nintendo (C‑24/16 and C‑25/16, EU:C:2017:724)] regarding the determination of the law applicable to [supplementary] claims under Article 8(2) of [Regulation No 864/2007] also lie in the Member State where the consumers to whom internet advertising is addressed are located and where goods infringing designs are put on the market within the meaning of Article 19 of [Regulation No 6/2002], in so far as only the offering and the putting on the market in that Member State are challenged, even if the internet offers on which the offering and the putting on the market are based were launched in another Member State?’

The Court’s decision:

Article 88(2) and Article 89(1)(d) of Council Regulation (EC) No 6/2002 of 12 December 2001 of Community designs, and Article 8(2) of Regulation (EC) No 864/2007 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 11 July 2007 on the law applicable to non-contractual obligations (Rome II) must be interpreted as meaning that the Community design courts before which an action for infringement pursuant to Article 82(5) of Regulation No 6/2002 is brought concerning acts of infringement committed or threatened within a single Member State must examine the claims supplementary to that action, seeking the award of damages, the submission of information, documents and accounts and the handing over of the infringing products with a view to their being destroyed, on the basis of the law of the Member State in which the acts allegedly infringing the Community design relied upon are committed or are threatened, which is the same, in the circumstances of an action brought pursuant to that Article 82(5), as the law of the Member State in which those courts are situated.

CJEU confirmed that private copying compensations include cloud storage too

The European Court has ruled recently in the Case C‑433/20 Austro-Mechana Gesellschaft zur Wahrnehmung mechanisch-musikalischer Urheberrechte Gesellschaft mbH v Strato AG.

This case has the following background:

Austro-Mechana is a copyright collecting society which, acting in its own name but in a fiduciary capacity in the interest and on behalf of the rightholders, exercises, inter alia, the statutory rights to the remuneration that is due under Paragraph 42b(1) of the Law on Copyright, in the version applicable to the dispute in the main proceedings.

Austro-Mechana applied to the Commercial Court, Vienna, Austria for an order to allow it to invoice for, and take payment of remuneration in respect of, ‘storage media of any kind’, on the ground that Strato provides its business and private customers with a service known as ‘HiDrive’, by which it makes cloud computing storage space available to them.

Strato contested the application on the ground that no remuneration was due in respect of cloud computing services. That company stated that it had already paid the required copyright fee in Germany, the Member State in which its servers are hosted, that fee having been incorporated in the price of the servers by their manufacturer or importer. It added that users in Austria had also already paid a levy for the making of private copies (‘the private copying levy’) on the terminal equipment necessary to upload content to the cloud.

By judgment of 25 February 2020, the Commercial Court, Vienna dismissed Austro-Mechana’s application, holding that Strato does not make storage media available to its customers, but provides them with an online storage service.

Austro-Mechana appealed against that judgment to the Higher Regional Court, Vienna, Austria, which observes, referring to the judgment of 29 November 2017, VCAST (C‑265/16, EU:C:2017:913), that it is not entirely clear whether the storage of content in the context of cloud computing comes within the scope of Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29.

In those circumstances, the Higher Regional Court, Vienna decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1) Is the expression “on any medium” in Article 5(2)(b) of Directive [2001/29] to be interpreted as meaning that it also includes servers owned by third parties which make available to natural persons (customers) for private use (and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial) storage space on those servers which those customers use for reproduction by storage (“cloud computing”)?

(2) If so: is the provision cited in Question 1 to be interpreted as meaning that it is applicable to national legislation under which the author is entitled to equitable remuneration (remuneration for exploitation of the right of reproduction on storage media), in the case:

–   where a work (which has been broadcast, made available to the public or recorded on a storage medium produced for commercial purposes) is by its nature likely to be reproduced for personal or private use by being stored “on a storage medium of any kind which is suitable for such reproduction and, in the course of a commercial activity, is placed on the market in national territory”,

–    and where the storage method used in that context is that described in Question 1?’

The Court’s decision:

1.  Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society must be interpreted as meaning that the expression ‘reproductions on any medium’, referred to in that provision, covers the saving, for private purposes, of copies of works protected by copyright on a server in which storage space is made available to a user by the provider of a cloud computing service.

2.  Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as not precluding national legislation that has transposed the exception referred to in that provision and that does not make the providers of storage services in the context of cloud computing subject to the payment of fair compensation in respect of the unauthorised saving of copies of copyright-protected works by natural persons, who are users of those services, for private use and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial, in so far as that legislation provides for the payment of fair compensation to the rightholders.

Denmark has legal troubles with Feta cheese in the EU

The Advocate General of the European Court ĆAPETA has given an opinion on Case C‑159/20 European Commission v Kingdom of Denmark.

This case concerns the issue of enforcement of geographical indication rights in Denmark related to the Greek Feta cheese.

In the present case, by bringing an action under Article 258 TFEU, the European Commission asks the Court to declare that the Kingdom of Denmark has breached its obligations under Article 13 of Regulation No 1151/2012 by failing to prevent or stop the use of the name ‘Feta’ on the cheese produced in Denmark intended for export to third countries. The Commission also claims that the Kingdom of Denmark has breached its obligations of sincere cooperation arising under Article 4(3) TEU, either alone or in conjunction with Articles 1(1) and 4 of Regulation No 1151/2012.

‘Feta’ is a type of cheese, traditionally produced from sheep’s, or sheep’s and goat’s, milk in parts of Greece. For those who want to learn more about ‘Feta’, I refer to the poetic description offered by Advocate General Ruiz-Jarabo Colomer, as I could not put it in better words myself. (4) Importantly for the case at issue, since 2002, the name ‘Feta’ is registered as a protected designation of origin (‘PDO’) under EU law. 

On the basis of Regulation No 1151/2012, registration of the name ‘Feta’ as a PDO means that it can be used only for cheese originating in the specified geographical area in Greece and complying with the product specification in Regulation No 1829/2002.

Article 13(3) of Regulation No 1151/2012 obliges the Member States to take the necessary measures to prevent or stop the unlawful use of registered PDOs on their territory. The Commission, supported by the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Cyprus, claims that the Kingdom of Denmark has breached that obligation by not preventing or stopping the use of the name ‘Feta’ for cheese produced in Denmark and intended to be exported to third countries.

The Kingdom of Denmark does not deny that it does not prevent or stop the producers on its territory from using the name ‘Feta’ if their products are intended to be exported to third countries. It considers, however, that Regulation No 1151/2012 applies only to products sold in the EU, and does not cover exports to third countries. In its view, therefore, the use of the name ‘Feta’ for cheese produced in Denmark, but destined only for export to the markets of third countries where the name ‘Feta’ is not protected on the basis of an international agreement does not amount to an infringement of Regulation No 1151/2012. Therefore, failure to prevent or stop the use of the name ‘Feta’ for exported cheese does not breach the obligation under Article 13(3) of Regulation No 1151/2012 because such an obligation does not arise under that provision.

In essence, the main dispute between the parties to the present case is about whether the relevant EU law prevents the use of the name ‘Feta’ for products exported to third countries which are not produced in accordance with the product specification of ‘Feta’ as a registered PDO.

To be clear, the dispute is not about the competences of the EU. The Kingdom of Denmark does not claim that the EU lacks competence to legislate with a view to prohibiting the use of the name ‘Feta’ for exported products. It only claims that, under current legislation, the EU legislature did not choose to prohibit such use.

Consequently, the present case requires the Court to interpret the scope of application of Regulation No 1151/2012. The prerequisite for that is an understanding of the underlying reason and purpose of protection of geographical indications, and more precisely of PDOs, as intended by the EU legislature. This case also raises some important questions concerning the principle of sincere cooperation laid down in Article 4(3) TEU in the context of infringement actions brought against the Member States.

The Advocate General’s opinion:

 In the light of the foregoing considerations, I propose that the Court should:

1. Declare that, by failing to prevent or stop the use by Danish producers of the registered name ‘Feta’ for cheese intended for export to third countries, the Kingdom of Denmark has failed to fulfil its obligations under Article 13 of Regulation (EU) No 1151/2012 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 21 November 2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs;

2. Dismiss the action as to the remainder;

3. Order the European Commission and the Kingdom of Denmark each to bear their own costs; and

4. Order the Hellenic Republic and the Republic of Cyprus each to bear their own costs.

Chile joins the Madrid Protocol for international registration of trademarks

WIPO reports about the accession of Chile to the Madrid Protocol for international registration of trademarks. The Protocol will come into force for the country on July 4, 2022.

After this date, the country can be designated in the application for international trademarks which will facilitate significantly all applicants that want to register marks in Chile.