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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