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Thursday, 30 November 2006

DE LANDTSHEER - THE AG'S OPINION; BROTHERS CONFUSINGLY SIMILAR


De Landtsheer - the AG's Opinion

The Opinion of Advocate General Paolo Mengozzi in Case C-381/05 De Landtsheer Emmanuel SA v Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin SA has now been posted on the Curia website, alas not in English. It was originally available to English readers in French, if they followed the link to the Italian version, though this quirk seems to have been rectified.

This case involves the reference to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling on the following questions:

"1. Does the definition of comparative advertising cover advertisements in which the advertiser refers only to a type of product, so that in those circumstances such advertisements must be regarded as referring to all undertakings which offer that type of product, and each of them can claim to have been identified?

2. With a view to determining whether there is a competitive relationship between the advertiser and the undertaking to which reference is made within the meaning of Article 2a of Directive 84/450:

(a) On the basis in particular of a comparison of Article 2a with paragraph (b) of Article 3a, should any undertaking which can be identified in the advertising be regarded as a competitor within the meaning of Article 2a, whatever the goods or services it offers?

(b) In the event of a negative response to that question and if other conditions are required in order for a competitive relationship to be established, is it necessary to consider the current state of the market and drinking habits in the Community or is it necessary also to consider how those habits might evolve?

(c) Must any investigation be confined to that part of the Community territory in which the advertising is disseminated?

(d) Is it necessary to consider the competitive relationship in relation to the types of products being compared and the way in which those types of products are generally perceived, or is it necessary, in order to assess the degree of substitution possible, to take into account also the particular characteristics of the product which the advertiser intends to promote in the advertising concerned and of the image he intends to give it?

(e) Are the criteria by which a competitive relationship within the meaning of Article 2(2a) can be established identical to the criteria for verifying whether the comparison satisfies the condition referred to in paragraph (b) of Article 3a?

3. Does a comparison of Article 2(2a) of Directive 84/450 1 with Article 3a of that directive mean that

(a) either any comparative advertising is unlawful which enables a type of product to be identified where a competitor or the goods offered by him cannot be identified from the wording?

(b) or the lawfulness of the comparison must be considered in the light only of national legislation other than that by which the provisions of the directive on comparative advertising are transposed, which could lead to reduced protection for consumers or undertakings offering the type of product being compared with the product offered by the advertiser?

4. If it should be concluded that there has been comparative advertising within the meaning of Article 2(2a), must it be inferred from Article 3a(1)(f) of the Directive that any comparison is unlawful which, in respect of products without designation of origin, relates to products with designation of origin?"
The Advocate General has advised the court to rule as follows:
«1) La référence faite dans un message publicitaire à un type de produit ne répond pas, en soi, à l’exigence d’identification inscrite à l’article 2, point 2 bis, de la directive 84/450/CEE du Conseil, du 10 septembre 1984, en matière de publicité trompeuse et de publicité comparative, telle que modifiée par la directive 97/55/CE du Parlement européen et du Conseil, du 6 octobre 1997, en ce sens qu’elle permettrait d’identifier chaque entreprise qui offre un tel type de produit ou ses biens. Une telle référence ne pourrait constituer une identification implicite d’un concurrent ou des biens offerts par celui-ci, au sens de cette disposition, que si, eu égard à toutes les circonstances de l’espèce, elle permet à un consommateur moyen, normalement informé et raisonnablement attentif et avisé, de se représenter une ou plusieurs entreprises déterminées qui offrent ce type de produit, ou leurs biens».

2) Pour déterminer s’il existe un rapport de concurrence au sens de l’article 2, point 2 bis, de la directive 84/450 entre l’annonceur et l’entreprise à laquelle il fait référence dans la publicité, il ne saurait être fait abstraction des biens ou des services offerts par une telle entreprise. Il y a lieu en revanche de vérifier que l’annonceur et ladite entreprise sont en concurrence, actuelle ou potentielle, pour une partie quelconque de la gamme de produits ou de services qu’ils offrent respectivement. Il suffira, en particulier, qu’existe, du côté de la demande, une certaine substituabilité, même limitée, entre un produit ou un service de l’un et un produit ou un service de l’autre.

Pour évaluer l’existence dudit rapport de concurrence, l’autorité nationale de contrôle doit se référer à la situation existant dans la partie du territoire communautaire dans laquelle la publicité est diffusée et qui est soumise à sa juridiction et devra prendre en compte également, entre autres facteurs, les possibilités d’évolution des habitudes de consommation, les particularités des produits ou services qui font l’objet de la publicité et l’image que l’annonceur entend imprimer au produit qu’il promeut.

Les critères de vérification de l’existence d’un rapport de concurrence au sens de l’article 2, point 2 bis, de la directive 84/450 et les critères servant à vérifier si la comparaison répond à la condition énoncée à l’article 3 bis, paragraphe 1, sous b), de cette même directive ne sont pas identiques.

3) Une publicité qui, bien que procédant à une comparaison, ne répond pas aux conditions permettant de la qualifier de comparative au sens de l’article 2, point 2 bis, de la directive 84/450, échappe au champ d’application des dispositions de cette même directive relatives à la publicité comparative. Sa licéité doit donc être évaluée au regard des dispositions nationales applicables autres que celles qui transposent les dispositions susmentionnées et au regard des autres dispositions de droit communautaire éventuellement pertinentes, même si le niveau de protection des intérêts des consommateurs et des fournisseurs de ce type de produit qui devrait en résulter est moindre.

4) Il y a lieu de déduire de l’article 3 bis, paragraphe 1, sous f), de la directive 84/450 qu’est illicite toute comparaison qui, pour des produits n’ayant pas d’appellation d’origine, se rapporte à des produits ayant une appellation d’origine».
Babelfish has helpfully rendered the Opinion as follows:
"1) The reference made in an advertisement to a type of product does not answer, in oneself, with the requirement of identification registered in article 2, point 2 (a), of directive 84/450/CEE of the Council, September 10, 1984, as regards misleading publicity and comparative publicity, as modified by directive 97/55/CE of the European Parliament and the Council, of October 6, 1997, in the sense that it would make it possible to identify each company which offers such a type of product or its goods. Such a reference could constitute an implicit identification of a competitor or goods offered by this one, within the meaning of this provision, only if, have regard with all the circumstances of the species, it allows an average consumer, normally informed and reasonably attentive and warned, to represent one or more given companies which offer this type of product, or their goods ".

2) to determine if there is a report/ratio of competition within the meaning of article 2, point 2 (a), of directive 84/450 between the advertiser and the company to which he refers in publicity, it would not know being disregarded goods or services offered by such a company. It is necessary on the other hand to check that the advertiser and the aforementioned company are in competition, current or potential, for an unspecified part of the service or line of goods which they offer respectively. It will be enough, in particular, which exists, on the side of the request, a certain substitutability, even limited, between a product or a service of the one and a product or a service of the other. To evaluate the existence of the aforesaid report/ratio of competition, the national supervisory authority must refer to the situation existing in the part of the Community territory in which the publicity is diffused and which is subjected to its jurisdiction and will have to also take into account, inter alia factors, the upgrading capabilities of the spending patterns, the characteristics of the products or services which make the object of publicity and the image that the advertiser intends to print with the product that it promotes. The criteria of checking of the existence of a report/ratio of competition within the meaning of article 2, point 2 (a), of the directive 84/450 and the criteria being used to check if the comparison answers the condition given in the article 3 (a), paragraph 1, under b), of this same directive are not identical.

3) a publicity which, although proceeding to a comparison, does not answer the conditions making it possible to qualify it the comparative one within the meaning of article 2, point 2 (a), from directive 84/450, escapes from the field of application from the provisions of this same directive on comparative publicity. Its must thus be evaluated in comparison with the national provisions applicable others that those which transpose the above-mentioned provisions and to the glance of the other possibly relevant provisions of Community legislation, even if the level of protection of the interests of the consumers and the suppliers of this type of product which should result from it is less.

4) It is necessary to deduce from article 3 (a), paragraph 1, under F), of the directive 84/450 which any comparison is illicit which, for products not having a label of origin, is referred to products having a label of origin".
The IPKat can't understand this very easily in either language. Can any kind reader supply a brief explanation of what the AG is recommending and whether - as the IPKat suspects - the producers of goods bearing protected appellations are getting a better deal out of this than are competitors and consumers.


Brothers confusingly similar

Well, the IPKat said it was a doomed appeal and he was dead right. The appeal in Case T-43/05 (details described on last week's IPKat posting here) has been dismissed. As the Court of First Instance said:
"If the relevant average consumer purchasing clothing, footwear or headgear bearing the mark BROTHERS by CAMPER understands that those goods originate from the manufacturer CAMPER, the familiarity of the mark CAMPER will not prevent the relevant average consumer who is accustomed to buying clothing, footwear or headgear bearing the mark BROTHERS from also associating those goods with the manufacturer CAMPER when the mark BROTHERS by CAMPER is registered.

87 Therefore, even if the mark BROTHERS is also well known, there is a risk that a consumer satisfied with goods of the mark BROTHERS who wishes to purchase other goods of that mark will purchase goods of the mark BROTHERS by CAMPER, making the applicant benefit from the familiarity of the similar earlier mark".
Some famous brothers here, here and here
Some famous campers here, here and here

7 comments:

Anonymous said...

Accepting that the IPKat's understanding of trade mark issues is significantly greater than mine, I am somewhat concerned about the BROTHERS case. It would appear that if I am not in a position to register a word mark, I can register a design mark consisting of the word with a trivial cartoon and then I will have protection for the word which I could not register. In my view, the design of the two BROTHERS marks was very different - the only similarity being the word, which I would have hoped would not be given too much strength. I suppose though that if that is the way the CFI sees it, it must be accepted.

Jeremy said...

It's not that simple. If you teach the consumer to become so familiar with an otherwise unregistrable word that he associates it with your goods or services, that word becomes registrable because its use by anyone else for the same goods or services would confuse or deceive the consumer. If the law allows that, why should it not equally allow protection of a figurative mark consisting of the same (prima facie unregistrable) word, together with the added bonus of a bit of artwork?

Anonymous said...

Agreed that familiarity on the part of the consumer might change things but my reading of the CFI decision seemed to concentrate almost exclusively on the fact that the two registrations contained the same word BROTHERS.

Anonymous said...

Statistically, the CFI will get it right every now and again and have done so here.

If you owned the mark BROTHERS (inherently registrable word, with or without logo) for clothing, and then eg M&S (a well known clothes shop in the UK) come along and use, or try to register, "BROTHERS By M&S" - I rather think you will be aggreived.

Anonymous said...

Moss Bros.?

Anonymous said...

Unfair analogy for two reasons. (1) 'Bros' is not the same as BROTHERS. Many people may not even know that BROS is short for Brothers;
(2) Even if they do, marks have to be compared as wholes. 'Bros' is not 'independently distinctive' in 'Moss Bros' -it's qualified by Moss.

Anonymous said...

Maybe true for the registration of Moss Bros. What I was hoping to indicate was that the use of the term "Brothers" could be considered relatively common and would therefore be inherently non-registerable.

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