The Court of Appeal has delivered its verdict in Boehringer Ingelheim v Swingward. (Readers will be excused if they have a sense of deja vu as they read those words). This is in the light of the ECJ's reponse to the second set of questions referred to it in this case. The ultimate result is Jacob LJ's statement "what I would do for the present is hold that the defendants have complied with BMS condition 4 and in particular that their activities by way of re-boxing and re-labelling have not caused and will not cause damage to the reputation of the claimants' trade marks.". The for now element is a result of a request from the claimants that the Court of Appeal hold off from making its final decison in the light of the fact that there is a pending Austrian reference to the ECJ asking the following questions:
1(a) Are Article 7 of the Trade Marks Directive [full title set out] and the case-law of the Court of Justice of the European Communities which has been pronounced on it to be interpreted as meaning that proof that reliance on the trade mark would contribute to an artificial partitioning of the market must be furnished not only as regards the repackaging in itself, but also as regards the presentation of the new packaging?
If the answer to this question is in the negative:
(b) Is the presentation of the new packaging to be measured against the principle of minimum intervention or (only) against whether it is such as to damage the reputation of the trade mark and its proprietor?
The IPKat can only agree with Jacob LJ's introductory comments:
Notwithstanding the two references to the ECJ and its answers, each "side" claims to have won...That is a sorry state of affairs. European trade mark law seems to have arrived at such a state of uncertainty that no one really knows what the rules are, outside the obviously core case of straightforward infringement (the use of a mark as a trade mark for the defendant's goods which is the same as or confusingly similar to a plaintiff's registered mark registered for the same or similar goods). Big brand owners want bigger rights; smaller players, no change or less. The compromises which have emerged have very fuzzy lines. So it is that in this case, notwithstanding two references (and a host of cases about relabelling parallel imports going back at least 30 years...), there is still room for argument. There is indeed a yet further reference about the subject still pending before the ECJ, see below.
The only winners here seem to be the lawyers (and of course the academics who get to write about the whole sorry mess).