Where a trademark lawsuit has to be initiated in case of online sales in the EU?

buy-3692440_960_720.jpgThe European Court has ruled in case C‑172/18 AMS Netve Ltd, Barnett Waddingham Trustees, Mark Crabtree v Heritage Audio SL, Pedro Rodríguez Arribas. This case concerns the territory where a trademark lawsuit has to be initiated in case of online sales. In details:

AMS Neve is a company established in the United Kingdom which manufactures and sells audio equipment. BW Trustees, also established in the United Kingdom, is the trustee of the AMS Neve executive pension scheme. Mr Crabtree is a director of AMS Neve.

Heritage Audio is a company established in Spain which sells and supplies audio equipment. Mr Rodríguez Arribas, who is domiciled in Spain, is the sole director of Heritage Audio.

On 15 October 2015 AMS Neve, BW Trustees and Mr Crabtree brought an action against Heritage Audio and Mr Rodríguez Arribas before the Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court (United Kingdom) claiming infringement of an EU trade mark of which BW Trustees and Mr Crabtree are the proprietors and for the use of which AMS Neve is exclusively licensed.

Their action concerns, in addition, the alleged infringement of two marks registered in the United Kingdom of which BW Trustees and Mr Crabtree are also the proprietors.

The EU trade mark relied on consists of the figure 1073 and was registered for goods within Class 9 of the Nice Agreement concerning the International Classification of Goods and Services for the Purposes of the Registration of Marks of 15 June 1957, as revised and amended. The description of the goods covered is in part as follows: ‘sound studio recording, mixing and processing equipment’.

The defendants in the main proceedings are alleged to have offered for sale to consumers in the United Kingdom imitations of goods of AMS Neve bearing a sign that is identical or similar to that EU trade mark and to the national trade marks or referring to that sign, and to have advertised those products.

The applicants in the main proceedings have submitted documents in support of their action, including the contents of the Heritage Audio website and the latter’s Facebook and Twitter accounts, an invoice issued by Heritage Audio to an individual residing in the United Kingdom and correspondence between Heritage Audio and a person established in the United Kingdom concerning possible deliveries of audio equipment.

The applicants in the main proceedings have in particular submitted screenshots from that website on which they claim appeared offers to sell audio equipment bearing a sign identical or similar to that EU trade mark. They have stressed that the offers for sale are worded in English and that a section headed ‘where to buy’ lists distributors established in various countries, including the United Kingdom. Further, they claim that it is apparent from the general sale conditions that Heritage Audio accepts orders from any EU Member State.

The defendants in the main proceedings pleaded that the court before which the action was brought had no jurisdiction.

While the defendants do not deny that Heritage Audio products might have been purchased, in the United Kingdom, through other companies, they assert that they have not, themselves, either advertised in the United Kingdom or made any sales in that Member State. They further assert that they have never appointed a distributor for the United Kingdom. Last, they contend that the content displayed on the Heritage Audio website and on the platforms to which the applicants in the main proceedings refer was, by the time of the period covered by the infringement action, obsolete and ought not therefore to be taken into account.

By judgment of 18 October 2016, the Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court held that it had no jurisdiction to hear the infringement action in so far as that action is based on the EU trade mark at issue.

That court states that the applicants in the main proceedings submitted evidence capable of proving that the Heritage Audio website was directed to, inter alia, the United Kingdom. That court considers, further, that the facts of the dispute before it enable it to find that Mr Rodríguez Arribas is jointly liable for the acts of Heritage Audio and that the courts of the United Kingdom have jurisdiction to hear the case in so far as that dispute concerns the protection of national intellectual property rights.

The Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court considers, on the other hand, that that dispute, in so far as it concerns infringement of the EU trade mark, is subject, in accordance with Article 97(1) of Regulation No 207/2009, to the jurisdiction of the courts of the Member State in whose territory the defendant is domiciled, in this case the Kingdom of Spain. The Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court adds that the jurisdiction of the Spanish courts also stems from Article 97(5) of that regulation, under which infringement actions may also be brought before the courts of the Member State in whose territory the act of infringement has been committed.

As regards the latter provision, the Intellectual Property and Enterprise Court considers that the court which has territorial jurisdiction to hear an action brought by the proprietor of a mark against a third party that has used signs identical or similar to that mark in advertising and offers for sale on a website or on social media platforms is the court with jurisdiction over the place where the third party decided to place that advertising or to offer for sale products on that site or on those platforms and took steps to give effect to that decision.

The applicants in the main proceedings brought an appeal against that judgment before the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division).

The referring court considers that the court of first instance, while referring in its judgment to certain judgments of the Court, such as those of 19 April 2012, Wintersteiger (C‑523/10, EU:C:2012:220), and of 5 June 2014, Coty Germany (C‑360/12, EU:C:2014:1318), misinterpreted those judgments and the case-law of the Court in general.

The referring court is of the opinion that such an interpretation would lead, in essence, to a finding that ‘the Member State in which the act of infringement has been committed’, within the meaning of Article 97(5) of Regulation No 207/2009, is the Member State in which the defendant set up its website and its social media accounts. According to the referring court, it follows, however, from the wording, purpose and context of that provision that the territory of the Member State subject to that provision is that in which the consumers or traders to whom the advertising and offers for sale are directed are resident.

The referring court adds that the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice, Germany), in its ‘Parfummarken’ judgment of 9 November 2017 (I ZR 164/16), held that the interpretation of the wording ‘law of the country in which the act of infringement was committed’, in 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) (OJ 2007 L 199, p. 40), adopted in the judgment of 27 September 2017, Nintendo (C‑24/16 and C‑25/16, EU:C:2017:724), can be transposed to Article 97(5) of Regulation No 207/2009. However, the referring court has some doubts with regard to that finding of the Bundesgerichtshof.

In those circumstances, the Court of Appeal (England & Wales) (Civil Division) decided to stay proceedings and to refer to the Court the following question for a preliminary ruling, adding in its decision that that question concerns the interpretation of Article 97(5) of Regulation No 207/2009:

‘In circumstances where an undertaking is established and domiciled in Member State A and has taken steps in that territory to advertise and offer for sale goods under a sign identical to an EU trade mark on a website targeted at traders and consumers in Member State B:

(i)  does an EU trade mark court in Member State B have jurisdiction to hear a claim for infringement of the EU trade mark in respect of the advertisement and offer for sale of the goods in that territory?

(ii)  if not, which other criteria are to be taken into account by that EU trade mark court in determining whether it has jurisdiction to hear that claim?

(iii)  in so far as the answer to (ii) requires that EU trade mark court to identify whether the undertaking has taken active steps in Member State B, which criteria are to be taken into account in determining whether the undertaking has taken such active steps?’

The Court’s decision:

Article 97(5) of Council Regulation (EC) No 207/2009 of 26 February 2009 on the [European Union] trade mark must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a European Union trade mark who considers that his rights have been infringed by the use without his consent, by a third party, of a sign identical to that mark in advertising and offers for sale displayed electronically in relation to products that are identical or similar to the goods for which that mark is registered, may bring an infringement action against that third party before a European Union trade mark court of the Member State within which the consumers or traders to whom that advertising and those offers for sale are directed are located, notwithstanding that that third party took decisions and steps in another Member State to bring about that electronic display.

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How a trademark can become a generic term and what is the danger in that regard?

door-green-closed-lock.jpgThe US-based company Safe Skies successfully revoked a European trademark ‘TSA lock’  registered by Travel Sentry for classes:

Class 6:      Metal locks (for luggage).

Class 18:    Bags; backpacks, canvas backpacks, athletics bags, carry-on bags, gym bags, travel bags, beach bags, briefcases, purses, suitcases, trunks, luggage, straps for luggage, waist packs, and wallets.

Class 20:    Non-metal locks (for luggage).

The ground for this revocation was Article 58(1)(b) and (c) EUTMR:

The rights of the proprietor of the EU trade mark shall be declared to be revoked on application to the Office or on the basis of a counterclaim in infringement proceedings:

  • (b) if, in consequence of acts or inactivity of the proprietor, the trademark has become the common name in the trade for a product or service in respect of which it is registered;
  • (c) if, in consequence of the use made of the trademark by the proprietor of the trademark or with his consent in respect of the goods or services for which it is registered, the trademark is liable to mislead the public, particularly as to the nature, quality or geographical origin of those goods or services.

According to Safe Skies, this trademark hadn’t been used as a trademark sign but only as a product name. In the case at hand, TSA lock’ was in use for special type of lock for luggage which allows Border Agencies to open it using a universal master key.

EUIPO revoked the trademark dismissing the owner’s arguments that nobody in the EU understands TSA as an abbreviation for Transportation Security Administration.

According to the Office, this is irrelevant because the consumers of this product named it as TSA lock not perceiving it as a trademark sign.

The submitted pieces of evidence weren’t enough to overcome this conclusion.

This case, although rare, is very essential when it comes to trademark protection because it shows clearly what is the danger when one trademark is used as a product name which sometimes is very tempting from marketing point of view.

Source: WIPR.

What can you find in the latest issue of WIPO Magazine?

pexels-photo-315658.jpegWIPO announced the new issue of it WIPO Magazine, where you can find:

  • GII 2019: Creating healthy lives – the future of medical innovation
  • Curbing cultural appropriation in the fashion industry with intellectual property
  • Singapore’s biggest copyright reform in 30 years
  • The harsh reality of life as a musician: an interview with Miranda Mulholland
  • With Teqball the world is curved
  • Five years after Alice: five lessons learned from the treatment of software patents in litigation
  • A History of Intellectual Property in 50 Objects

For more information here.

Book publishers accused Audible of a copyright infringement

audiobook-3106986_960_720.jpgTBO reports about a new lawsuit initiated by several US book publishers against Amazon’s Audible.

As it is well-known Audible is a service that offers audiobooks. The dispute arose when Audible announced its new feature which will allow the narrative from the audiobooks to be transformed into a text that can be used by the consumers of their service.

According to the publishers, this act is against their copyright over the books because there is no particular license that allows such transformation and subsequent distribution.

The other problem is that the quality of these texts could not be satisfying because of technical issues which means that the texts will be different from the original works.

Poland attacks the new EU Copyright Directive before the EU Court

notebook-614213_960_720.jpgPoland initiated a legal proceeding against the new EU Copyright Directive and in particular against the texts that require automatic filtering of content. According to the complaint:

The Republic of Poland seeks the annulment of Article 17(4)(b) and Article 17(4)(c), in fine (i.e. the part containing the following wording: ‘and made best efforts to prevent their future uploads in accordance with point (b)’) of Directive (EU) 2019/790 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 17 April 2019 on copyright and related rights in the Digital Single Market and amending Directives 96/9/EC and 2001/29/EC (OJ EU L 130 of 17.5.2019, p. 92) and an order that the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union are to pay the costs.

In the alternative, should the Court find that the contested provisions cannot be deleted from Article 17 of Directive (EU) 2019/790 without substantively changing the rules contained in the remaining provisions of that article, the Republic of Poland claims that the Court should annul Article 17 of Directive (EU) 2019/790 in its entirety.

The Republic of Poland raises against that the contested provisions of Directive 2019/790 a plea alleging infringement of the right to freedom of expression and information guaranteed by Article 11 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

The Republic of Poland claims specifically that the imposition on online content-sharing service providers of the obligation to make best efforts to ensure the unavailability of specific works and other subject matter for which the rightholders have provided the service providers with the relevant and necessary information (point (b) of Article 17(4) of Directive 2019/790) and the imposition on online content-sharing service providers of the obligation to make best efforts to prevent the future uploads of protected works or other subject-matter for which the rightsholders have lodged a sufficiently substantiated notice (point (c), in fine, of Article 17(4) of Directive 2019/790) make it necessary for the service providers — in order to avoid liability — to carry out prior automatic verification (filtering) of content uploaded online by users, and therefore make it necessary to introduce preventive control mechanisms. Such mechanisms undermine the essence of the right to freedom of expression and information and do not comply with the requirement that limitations imposed on that right be proportional and necessary.

Why ‘Botanical Origin’ cannot be a European trademark?

water-lily-1857350_960_720The EUIPO Board of Appeal has rules in case R 881/2019-5, which concerns an attempt for registration of a word European trademark for ‘Botanical Origin’ in class 3:

All purpose cleaning preparations for household, commercial, industrial and institutional use; cleaning preparations for toilets, bath tubs, sinks and floors; cleaning preparations for kitchen and bathroom surfaces; disposable wipes impregnated with cleaning compounds for use in bathrooms and kitchens; polishing preparations for kitchen and glassware; oven cleaning preparations; stove-top cleaning preparations; cleaning preparations for vitroceramic and kitchen surfaces; glass and metal cleaning preparations; window cleaning preparations; bleaching preparations and other substances for laundry use, whether in solid, fluid or gel form; laundry preparations; carpet cleaning preparations; decalcifying and descaling preparations for household purposes; fabric softeners; laundry detergents and additives; stain removing preparations; scent boosters; prewash and stain loosening preparations; starch; laundry blue; bleaching preparations and other substances for use in dishwashing; cleaning, polishing, scouring and abrasive preparations; dishwasher cleaners, fresheners and deodorizers; rinsing agents; preparations for cleaning and de-clogging dishwashers; decalcifying and descaling agents for household purposes; dish detergents; all the above-mentioned products with or without disinfecting components; soaps; detergents; rust removers and grease removers; drain and sink unblocking preparations; preparations for prevention of limescale, rust or grease

EUIPO refused to register this sign based on absolute grounds art. 7(1)(b) EUTMR, lack of distinctiveness. The decision was appealed.

The Board of Appeal upheld the initial EUIPO position. The arguments for this is that the expression Botanical Origin would be perceived by the relevant public as information that the goods come from a botanical source and/or contain ingredients that have a plant-based origin.

The applicant argued that the sign is distinctive at least for some of the goods where there is no such connotation.

This was dismissed too. According to the Board, the phrase would be “perceived by the relevant public as only providing promotional information on the nature, purpose, performance and subject matter of the goods and services concerned and not as indicating their [commercial] origin”.

Source: WIPR.

Honda won a trademark dispute in the UK

photo-1505326841080-510ac2d537c9.jpgHonda won an opposition in the UK against an application for a trademark ‘Vtecdirect’ in class 37 for the “the fitting and installation of Vehicle parts; the maintenance, repair, and servicing of vehicles”.

Against this mark, the Japanese company invoked its earlier mark for ‘VTEC’ in class 12.

According to the Patent Office, there is a similarity between both signs that can create consumer confusion. Both trademarks are visually similar due to the VTEC part which has a leading position. Although DIRECT word creates some conceptual difference it is not enough to overcome the similarity especially taking into account the fact that this word is not so distinctive.

The applicant’s argument that there was no confusion because both companies have different business models and in fact, its services enhance Honda’s sales were been dismissed. The trademark role is to indicate trade origin not to promote someone else’s brand.

Source: WIPR.