The Quick and Easy Guide to German and EU Intellectual Property Law, Trademarks and Copyright
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No exclamation mark for JOOP!

In Case T‑191/08 the European Court of Justice (ECJ) declined JOOP!’s motion to permit registration of a single exclamation mark placed inside a rectangle as a Community trademark.

The court ruled that this mark lacks distinctive character and therefore can not be registered as a trademark, pursuant to Art 7 Sec. 1b) of Regulation No 40/94. The single exclamation mark is a mere eye catcher, not suitable to convey the origin of goods.

The court also rejected the point that the mark had acquired a secondary meaning as a trademark pursuant to Art. 7 Sec. 3 of Regulation 40/94. JOOP! not only failed to deliver proof in time. The documents provided referred to the German market only and not – as it would have been necessary – to all markets in all member states.

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October 12, 2009   5 Comments

Google AdWords – Advocate General’s Opinion

There are some news in regards to cases involving the question whether the use of trademarked keywords in Google AdWords constitutes a trademark infringement. The Advocate General Poiares Maduro has delivered his opinion on the joined cases C‑236/08, C‑237/08 and C‑238/08 involving Google (France), Viaticum Luteciel, CNRRH and others, previously ruled by the French Cour de Cassation.

This opinion is not to be confused with a judgement of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) nor is it in any way binding for the ECJ. But still – it is a first outlook on possible further developments, especially as there are also other similar cases (see also my earlier Google related posts here, here and here) pending with the ECJ.

The opinion is clearly guided by the principle that “…. it is important not to allow the legitimate purpose of preventing certain trade mark infringements to lead all trade mark uses to be prohibited in the context of cyberspace…”. The Advocate General also emphasises that “…it is not the use in ads, or on the sites advertised, that is the subject…” of his opinion.

In brief, the Advocate General concludes that the use of trademarked keywords by Google in its AdWords system (the selection process) does not constitute a trademark infringement. Trademark proprietors are referred to intervene “…when the ads are displayed to Internet users…”.

The opinion draws the following key conclusions:

1. The mere selection of a trademarked keyword in Google AdWords or a similar paid Internet referencing service without the trademark proprietor’s consent does not constitute a trademark infringement. Advertisers are not acting in the course of trade when selecting keywords because they are being sold these keywords by Google in relation to the AdWords service. Thereby the advertisers are acting as mere consumers which is private use.

2. A trademark proprietor may not prevent a provider of such services from making available keywords reproducing registered trademarks based on Article 5(1)(a) and (b) of Directive 89/104 and Article 9(1)(a) and (b) of Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 as AdWords is not identical or similar to those covered by the trade marks.
More clearly the Advocate General rejects “…. the notion that the act of contributing to a trade mark infringement by a third party, whether actual or potential, should constitute an infringement in itself…”, arguing that otherwise newspapers would have to be prohibited as they could potentially be abused by third parties to infringe trademarks as well.

3. Neither may a proprietor of a trademark with a reputation prevent such keyword use based on Article 5(2) of Directive 89/104 and Article 9(1)(c) of Regulation No 40/94 as the other functions of the trade mark (e.g. guaranteeing the quality of goods, communication etc.) should not be considered to be affected as the Advocate General puts it. This conclusion seems vastly result oriented, based on the concern that “… if trade mark proprietors were to be allowed to prevent those uses on the basis of trade mark protection, they would establish an absolute right of control over the use of their trade marks as keywords. Such an absolute right of control would cover, de facto, whatever could be shown and said in cyberspace with respect to the good or service associated with the trade mark…”.

4. Paid Internet referencing services are no information society services consisting in the storage of information provided by the recipient of the service within the meaning of Article 14 of Directive 2000/31/EC. This means Google would not be exempt from liability under national law for featuring content constituting trade mark infringements. The argument is based on the aim of Directive 2003/31 which is to ensure the Internet as a free and open public domain. The Directive aims to achieve this by limiting the liability of those transmitting or storing information.  The Advocate General however argues, that the content featured in Google AdWords (the ads actually displayed) does not deserve this kind of protection as it originates from Google’s relationship with the advertisers and thus AdWords is not a neutral information vehicle.

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September 27, 2009   1 Comment

State emblems as trade marks – an almost impossible transformation

In this case the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had to decide about the registration of a State emblem (the Canadian maple leave emblem) as a Community trade mark. The underlying question was what scope of protection provided by Art. 6ter of the Paris Convention to State emblems and whether this Article also applies to service marks.

The Belgian company “American Clothing Associates” had filed an application for a Community trade mark (Nice Classes 18, 25 and 40). The sign in question was representing a maple leaf with the letters “RW” beneath it. The application was rejected based on Article 7(1) of Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 establishing an absolute ground for refusal in regards to registration of State emblems in conjunction with Article 6ter of the Paris Convention.

American Clothing Associates filed action with the Court of First Instance but wasn’t successful. Finally, American Clothing Associates filed an appeal with the ECJ on the grounds that the Court of First Instance didn’t apply Article 7(1)(h) of Regulation No 40/94 and Article 6ter(1)(a) of the Paris Convention properly mainly due to a misinterpretation of the relevance of the essential function of State emblems.

American Clothing Associates argued that the scope of protection of Article 6ter (1)(a) of the Paris Convention is only to protect State emblems from imitations in a heraldic sense. Not the symbol itself is protected but the specific graphic work. Thus emblems without heraldic characteristics are not covered by the scope of Article 6ter (1)(a) of the Paris Convention.

The ECJ dismissed the appeal brought by American Clothing Associates. This was mainly based on the finding that the scope of protection of Article 6ter of the Paris Convention is absolute and “… does not depend on whether the emblem imitated in a trade mark is perceived by the public as a distinctive element or an ornamental element …”. The court further reasons that the essential functions of trademarks and State emblems are different in that State emblems are meant to identify a State and represent its sovereignty whereas trademarks are a means to identify the origination of goods and services. Further on the protection of State emblems does not require a likelihood of confusion. State emblems cannot be declared invalid, their protection period is not limited and they are protected without the need for registration.

The court also concludes that Article 6ter of the Paris Convention may even be applicable in cases where the mark is not an exact reproduction of a State emblem  if a trade mark is perceived by the relevant public as an imitation of a State emblem.

Finally the court ruled that the Paris Convention does not require States to distinguish between trademarks for goods and services although States are free to do so. The court outlines that based on Article 29(1) of Regulation No 40/94 it is evident that the Community legislature did not intend to discriminate between marks for goods and marks for services.

(European Court of Justice, Cases C‑202/08 P and C‑208/08 P, 16 Jul 2009)

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July 23, 2009   No Comments

Concept of “extraction” does not require physical copying

The concept of “extraction” within the meaning of Article 7 of Directive 96/9 EC does not necessarily require physical copying. Transferring the elements of one database to another database following visual consultation of the first database and a selection on the basis of a personal assessment of the person carrying out the operation can also be an extraction pursuant to Article 7 of Directive 96/9.

Directive 96/9 EC is meant to provide “legal protection of databases in any form”. Article 7 of this  Directive stipulates a sui generis right to the maker of a database to prevent extraction, provided the maker has made a substantial investment in the database (e.g. time).

Here the European Court of Justice (ECJ) had to decide a case where the claimant had created an anthology based on a list of verse titles of important German poems, which he (the claimant) had compiled and published on the Internet. The defendant has published a CD ROM “1 000 poems everyone should have” whereby the vast majority of poems in this collection also appear in the list published by the claimant.

The defendant selected the poems as follows:
The claimant’s list was used as a guide. Certain poems on the list were omitted, and others added. Each poem was critically examined before selected for inclusion in the CD ROM. The actual texts of the poems were taken from the defendant’s own resources.

(European Court of Justice 09.Oct. 2008, C‑304/07)

Based on this decision the “screen scraping” decision of the Higher Regional Court of Frankfurt (6U 221/08) could have well been a different one. It looks a bit as if the court wanted to get the work done quickly without digging too much into detail. So they choose the easy route, ruling that no essential parts of that database were affected nor did the screen scraping process interfere unreasonably with database maker’s legitimate interest. By going down this path, there was no need to deal with the concept of extraction and other principles related to Directive 96/9.

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June 29, 2009   No Comments

L’Oréal vs. Bellure

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) had to decide in a case where the defendant (Bellure) was marketing imitations of the claimant’s (L’Oréal) fragrances whereby packaging and bottles were being generally similar however this similarity was unlikely to mislead professionals or the public. Further on the defendant was marketing these imitations by using L’Oréal´s wordmarks in a comparison price list.

One of the key questions the court answered (in the negative), was whether the applicability of Directive 89/104/EEC (to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trade marks) and of Directive 84/450/EEC (concerning misleading and comparative advertising, amended by Directive 97/55/EC) requires a likelihood of confusion.

The taking of unfair advantage of the distinctive character or the repute of a mark pursuant to Article 5(2) of Directive 89/104/EEC does not require a likelihood of confusion or detriment to the distinctive character or the repute of the mark.

The unfairness of the use of a trademark arises where a third party seeks

  • to ride on the coat-tails of the mark with a reputation and
  • to benefit from the reputation of that mark

and thus is exploiting the proprietor’s marketing efforts without paying any financial compensation.

Under Article 5(1)(a) of Directive 89/104/EEC the proprietor of a registered trade mark has the right to ban a third party from using that trademark in a comparative advertisement not compliant with the requirements as per Article 3a(1) of Directive 84/450/EEC (concerning misleading and comparative advertising, amended by Directive 97/55/EC) even if such use does not jeopardise the essential function of the mark (indicating the origin of the goods or services) if it affects one of the other functions of the mark and by that going beyond a mere descriptive use. These complimentary functions are in particular:

  • communication
  • investment
  • advertising.

The court sees the way in which L’Oréal’s wordmarks were being used by the defendant in the price lists as more than a mere descriptive comparison. In fact the price lists in this case are classified by the court as a means of advertising.

An advertiser who states explicitly or implicitly in comparative advertising that the product marketed by him is an imitation of a product bearing a well-known trade mark unlawfully presents “goods or services as imitations or replicas” within the meaning of Article 3a(1)(h) of Directive 84/450 (amended by Directive 97/55) and advantages gained as a result of such unlawful comparative advertising are thus taken unfairly of the reputation of that mark pursuant to Article 3a(1)(g) of Directive 84/450.

It has to be noted that on the 27. November 2008, Directive 89/104/EEC has been replaced by Directive 2008/95/EC. However regarding the date of the case’s facts in the main proceedings, this case still had to be decided applying Directive 89/104/EEC.

European Court of Justice (C-487/07 – 18. June 2009)

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June 22, 2009   No Comments

Keywords Going Bananas

In the so called “Bananababy Case” the Federal Court of Justice (BGH) has referred the case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ), to answer the following question (see also my previous post about using company symbols as keywords ):

Is it to be deemed “using in the cause of trade” as to Art. 5 no. 1 Clause 2 let. a of Directive 89/104 EEC, if a third party is using a symbol identical to a trademark without the consent of the respective trademark owner, by booking this symbol as a keyword (here: “bananababy”) in a paid – for search on the Internet (here: Google AdWords) to advertise identical products or services, if

  • the advertisement is separated from the natural search results,
  • the advertisement is clearly labelled as such,
  • and if said advertisement does not display the symbol itself or any reference to the actual trademark owner or trademark owner’s goods?

(Federal Court of Justice – I ZR 125/07 – 22. Jan 2009)

In the relevant case, both parties are selling adult accessories on the Internet. The plaintiff has trademarked the term “bananababy”. The defendant used this term as a keyword on Google AdWords, however did not actually use this term in the advertisement itself.

See also this previous post about a Federal Court decision dealing with keywords, company symbols and the likelihood of confusion. Although,  it is a constellation quite similar to this one, it has not been referred to the ECJ. Reason: Directive 89/104 EEC is not applicable to company symbols.

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May 11, 2009   No Comments