Balsamico and an Italian-German legal conflict

food-3360720_960_720.jpgThe Advocate General of the European Court G. HOGAN has issued his opinion in case C‑432/18 Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena v BALEMA GmbH. The case concerns the following:

BALEMA GmbH produces vinegar-based products and markets them in the Baden region (Germany). For at least 25 years, it has been selling products under the designations ‘Balsamico’ and ‘Deutscher Balsamico’. The labels on its products bear the legend ‘Theo der Essigbrauer, Holzfassreifung, Deutscher Balsamico traditionell, naturtrüb aus badischen Weinen’ [Theo the vinegar brewer, matured in wooden barrels, German balsamic vinegar, traditional, naturally cloudy, made from Baden wine] or ‘1. Deutsches Essig-Brauhaus, Premium, 1868, Balsamico, Rezeptur No 3’ [first German vinegar brewery, premium, 1868, balsamic, recipe No 3].

It is agreed that BALEMA’s products designated as ‘Balsamico’ are not covered by the registration ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena (PGI)’ pursuant to Article 1 of and Annex I to Regulation No 583/2009 because they do not fulfill the product specifications contained in Annex II of that regulation.

Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena (‘the Consorzio’) is a consortium of producers of the products designated by the name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’. It considers that BALEMA’s use of the designation ‘Balsamico’ infringes the protected geographical indication ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’. The Consorzio thus served a warning notice on BALEMA. BALEMA, in turn, brought an action in the German courts against the Consorzio seeking a negative declaration to the effect that there had been no trade mark infringement. That action was unsuccessful.

In the appeal on the merits, BALEMA sought a declaration that it is not obliged to refrain from using the designation ‘Balsamico’ for vinegar-based products produced in Germany. The appeal on the merits was upheld as the court considered that the use of the name ‘Balsamico’ in respect of vinegar did not infringe Article 13(1)(b) of Regulation No 1151/2012. According to that court, the protection for the name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ granted by Regulation No 583/2009 was conferred only on the entire name and not on the non-geographical components of the term as a whole, even if used jointly.

The case was appealed to the referring court.

The referring court considers that the appeal on a point of law will succeed if the names ‘Balsamico’ and ‘Deutscher Balsamico’ used by BALEMA infringe Article 13(1)(a) or (b) of Regulation No 1151/2012. According to that court such a finding would require that the protection of the entire name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ granted by Article 1 of Regulation No 583/2009 also covers the use of the individual non-geographical components of the term as a whole (‘Aceto’, ‘Balsamico’, ‘Aceto Balsamico’).

The Federal Court of Justice notes that it is clear from the second subparagraph of Article 13(1) of Regulation No 1151/2012 and the case-law of the Court that, pursuant to Article 13(1)(a) or (b) of that regulation, a protected geographical indication that consists of several terms can be protected against not only the use of the entire indication, but also against the use of individual terms of that indication. The second subparagraph of Article 13(1) of Regulation No 1151/2012 governs the specific case in which a protected geographical indication contains within it the name of a product which is considered to be generic. That provision stipulates that the use of that generic name is not to be considered to be contrary to Article 13(1)(a) or (b) of that regulation. The Federal Court of Justice also refers to the fact that the Commission regulation registering the name may restrict the scope of the protection of a protected geographical indication that consists of several terms so that it does not cover the use of individual terms of that indication. In that regard, the fact that an applicant may state that it does not seek protection for all elements of a name shows that the protection granted by its registration can be restricted.

The Federal Court of Justice considers that recitals 3, 5 and 10 of Regulation No 583/2009 militate in favor of a restriction of the scope of protection to the name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ as a whole, to the exclusion of individual non-geographical components. It also considers that, contrary to the view taken in the appeal on a point of law, the assumption that protection is granted to the name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ as a whole did not give rise to an inconsistency with the registration of the protected designations of origin ‘Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Modena’ and ‘Aceto balsamico tradizionale di Reggio Emilia’. Contrary to Regulation No 583/2009, the references to a restricted scope of protection in Regulation No 813/2000, which may be attributable to the fact that there was no opposition by Member States pursuant to Article 7 of Council Regulation (EEC) No 2081/92 (now Articles 51 and 52 of Regulation No 1151/2012) in the preceding registration procedure, does not preclude a restriction of the protective effect of the name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ as a whole.

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

‘Does the protection of the entire name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” extend to the use of the individual non-geographical components of the term as a whole (“Aceto”, “Balsamico”, “Aceto Balsamico”)?’

The Advocate’s position is:

The protection of the entire name ‘Aceto Balsamico di Modena’ under Commission Regulation (EC) No 583/2009 of 3 July 2009 does not extend to the use of the individual common words or non-geographical components, namely, ‘Aceto’, ‘Balsamico’ and ‘Aceto Balsamico’.

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Brief IP news

briefs_1131. Bosnia and Herzegovina to use the list of terms from the harmonized database in TMclass. For more information here.

2. Geographical Indications after Brexit: the impact on food names. For more information here.

3. Licensing and selling intellectual property. For more information here.

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.

Irish whiskey is now protected EU Geographical indication

drink-3108436_960_720.jpgThe European Commission confirmed the Irish whiskey status as a protected European Geographical indication. The scope of protection covers different variations of this whiskey such as malt Irish whiskey, pot still Irish whiskey, grain Irish whiskey, and blended Irish whiskey.

Irish whiskey has been known since the 6th Century. In the 19 Century, its production rose significantly and in the 20 Century, it became worldwide known.

In the future, this whiskey will be produced only on the territory of Irland under strict requirements and approved methods.

This is a strategic step for the Irish Whiskey Association because it gives an opportunity for legal protection against unfair competition and infringements. What’s more, the protection of this Geographical indication will be included in future trade negotiations between The EU and third parties which by itself is crucial for the Association taking into account its global sells.

Albania joins the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin

2000px-Flag_of_Albania.svg.pngWIPO reports about the accession of Albania to the Lisbon Agreement for the Protection of Appellations of Origin and their International Registration, which will come into force for the country on 08.05.2019. This will allow Albania to be designated in applications for such appellations after that date.

For more information here.

A dispute over geographical indications can threaten the trade deal between the EU and Australia

bigstock-Australia-flag-with-european-u-133799099.jpgAs it is well-known the EU is negotiating with Australia for a $100 billion trade deal similar to those signed with Canada and Japan.

In that regard, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner Phil Hogan expressed his concerns about the deal after the last meeting between the parties in Canberra.

As in all other deals, the EU expects all of its geographical indications to cover the other party’s territory after the deal, which aim to protect the European producers of traditional products.

The problem in the case of Australia, however, is that many local manufacturers have been using European geographical indications, such as Prosecco and Feta for free for decades. The EU insists that to be discontinued. On the other side, the Australian government tries to support its producers in an attempt to avoid eventual economic disturbance for them.

In most of the cases, such disputes end with a grace period after which the relevant producers have to seize the use of the protected geographical indications or in some cases at least to add the name of the country in front for a distinction.

Source: The Sydney Morning Herald.

Whisky and a German-Scottish dispute over geographical indications

drink-428319_960_720.jpgThe European court ruled in case C‑44/17 Scotch Whisky Association v Michael Klotz, which concerns the following:

The Scotch Whisky Association is an organisation constituted under Scottish law. Its objectives include protecting the trade in Scottish whisky both in Scotland and abroad.

Mr Klotz markets, via a website, a whisky under the designation ‘Glen Buchenbach’, which is produced by the Waldhorn distillery in Berglen, located in the Buchenbach valley in Swabia (Germany).

The label on the whisky bottles in question includes, in addition to a stylised depiction of a hunting horn (Waldhorn in German), the following information: ‘Waldhornbrennerei’ (Waldhorn distillery), ‘Glen Buchenbach’, ‘Swabian Single Malt Whisky’, ‘500 ml’, ‘40% vol’, ‘Deutsches Erzeugnis’ (German product), ‘Hergestellt in den Berglen’ (produced in the Berglen).

The Scotch Whisky Association brought an action before the Landgericht Hamburg (Regional Court, Hamburg, Germany) seeking an order that Mr Klotz, inter alia, cease to market that whisky, which is not Scotch whisky, under the designation ‘Glen Buchenbach’, on the ground that use of that designation infringes, in particular, Article 16(a) to (c) of Regulation No 110/2008, which protects the geographical indications registered in Annex III to that regulation, which include ‘Scotch Whisky’.

According to the Scotch Whisky Association, those provisions ensure that a geographical indication registered for a spirit drink is protected not only against the use of such an indication but also against any reference that suggests the geographical origin of that indication. It argues that because the designation ‘Glen’ is very widely used in Scotland instead of the word ‘valley’ and, in particular, as an element of the trade mark in the names of Scottish whiskies, it evokes in the relevant public an association with Scotland and Scotch Whisky despite the fact that other information is included on the label, which specifies that the product at issue is of German origin. Mr Klotz contends that the action should be dismissed.

The Landgericht Hamburg (Regional Court, Hamburg) states that whether the claim is to succeed depends on the interpretation to be given to Article 16(a) to (c) of Regulation No 110/2008. It has therefore decided to stay the proceedings and to refer the following questions to the Court of Justice for a preliminary ruling:

‘(1)  Does “indirect commercial use” of a registered geographical indication of a spirit drink in accordance with Article 16(a) of [Regulation No 110/2008] require that the registered geographical indication be used in identical or phonetically and/or visually similar form, or is it sufficient that the disputed element evokes in the relevant public some kind of association with the registered geographical indication or the geographical area?

If the latter is sufficient: When determining whether there is any “indirect commercial use”, does the context in which the disputed element is embedded then also play a role, or can that context not counteract indirect commercial use of the registered geographical indication, even if the disputed element is accompanied by an indication of the true origin of the product?

(2) Does an “evocation” of a registered geographical indication in accordance with Article 16(b) of [Regulation No 110/2008] require that there be a phonetic and/or visual similarity between the registered geographical indication and the disputed element, or is it sufficient that the disputed element evokes in the relevant public some kind of association with the registered geographical indication or the geographical area?

If the latter is sufficient: When determining whether there is any “evocation”, does the context in which the disputed element is embedded also play a role, or can that context not counteract any unlawful evocation of the registered geographical indication, even if the disputed element is accompanied by an indication of the true origin of the product?

(3) When determining whether there is any “other false or misleading indication” in accordance with Article 16(c) of [Regulation No 110/2008], does the context in which the disputed element is embedded play a role, or can that context not counteract any misleading indication, even if the disputed element is accompanied by an indication of the true origin of the product?’

The Court decision:

1.  Article 16(a) of Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 January 2008 on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 1576/89 must be interpreted as meaning that, for the purpose of establishing that there is ‘indirect commercial use’ of a registered geographical indication, the disputed element must be used in a form that is either identical to that indication or phonetically and/or visually similar to it. Accordingly, it is not sufficient that that element is liable to evoke in the relevant public some kind of association with the indication concerned or the geographical area relating thereto.

2. Article 16(b) of Regulation No 110/2008 must be interpreted as meaning that, for the purpose of establishing that there is an ‘evocation’ of a registered geographical indication, the referring court is required to determine whether, when the average European consumer who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect is confronted with the disputed designation, the image triggered directly in his mind is that of the product whose geographical indication is protected. In making that determination, the referring court, in the absence of (i) any phonetic and/or visual similarity between the disputed designation and the protected geographical indication and (ii) any partial incorporation of that indication in that designation, must take account of the conceptual proximity, if any, between the designation and the indication.

Article 16(b) of Regulation No 110/2008 must be interpreted as meaning that, for the purpose of establishing that there is an ‘evocation’ of a registered geographical indication, account is not to be taken either of the context surrounding the disputed element, or, in particular, of the fact that that element is accompanied by an indication of the true origin of the product concerned.

3. Article 16(c) of Regulation No 110/2008 must be interpreted as meaning that, for the purpose of establishing that there is a ‘false or misleading indication’, as prohibited by that provision, account is not be taken of the context in which the disputed element is used.

Image: jarmoluk / 1443 images, Pixabay.