International Commercial Law Blog

The free movement of goods may be restricted on grounds of protection of copyright

In its Judgement in Case C-5/11 Titus Alexander Jochen Donner, the Court of Justice of the European Union ruled that a Member State may bring an action under national criminal law against a transporter for the offence of aiding and abetting the prohibited distribution of copyright-protected works on national territory, even where those works are not protected by copyright in the vendor’s Member State.

Mr Donner, a German national, was found guilty by the Landgericht München II (Regional Court, Munich II, Germany) of aiding and abetting the prohibited commercial exploitation of copyright- protected works. According to the findings of the regional court, between 2005 and 2008 Mr Donner had distributed replicas of furnishings in the so-called “Bauhaus” (these included chairs from the Aluminium Group, designed by Charles and Ray Eames, Wagenfeld lights, designed by Wilhelm Wagenfeld, seating, designed by Le Corbusier, the occasional table called the “Adjustable Table” and “Tubelight” lamps, designed by Eileen Gray, and tubular steel cantilever chairs, designed by Mart Stam) style, which was protected by copyright in Germany, for sale to customers residing in Germany.

These replicas originated from Italy, where they were not protected by copyright between 2002 and 2007, nor were they fully protected at the relevant time because, according to Italian case-law, that protection was unenforceable against producers who had reproduced or offered them for sale and/or marketed them for a certain time. The replicas had been offered for sale to customers residing in Germany by the Italian undertaking Dimensione Direct through advertisements and supplements in newspapers, direct publicity letters and a German-language internet website.

For transport to customers residing in Germany, Dimensione recommended using the Italian transport undertaking In.Sp.Em, of which Mr Donner was the principal director. The In.Sp.Em drivers collected the items ordered by German customers in Italy and paid the relevant purchase price to Dimensione. The In.Sp.Em drivers then collected the purchase price and freight charges from the customer on delivery in Germany. From a legal point of view, ownership of the goods sold by Dimensione was transferred in Italy to the German customers. The transfer of the power of disposal over the goods, however, did not take place until the goods were handed over to the purchaser in Germany, with the help of Mr Donner. Thus, according to the regional court, the distribution for the purposes of copyright did not take place in Italy, but rather in Germany, where it was prohibited in the absence of authorisation from the copyright holders.

Mr Donner appealed on a point of law against the judgment of the regional court to the Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice, Germany). That court seeks to know whether the application of German criminal law gives rise, in the present case, to an unjustified restriction on the free movement of goods, as guaranteed under EU law.

In its judgment delivered today, the Court of Justice observes, firstly, that the application of criminal law in the present case presupposes that there has been, on the national territory, a “distribution to the public” for the purposes of EU law (Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonisation of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society in OJ 2001 L 167, p. 10). In that regard, it finds that a trader who directs his advertising at members of the public residing in a given Member State and creates or makes available to them a specific delivery system and payment method, or allows a third party to do so, thereby enabling those members of the public to receive delivery of copies of works protected by copyright in that same Member State, makes, in the Member State where the delivery takes place, such a distribution. In the present case, the Court leaves it to the national court to determine whether there is evidence supporting a conclusion that that trader did actually make such a distribution to the public.

Secondly, the Court finds that the prohibition on distribution in Germany which is sanctioned by national criminal law does constitute a restriction on the free movement of goods. Such a restriction may, however, be justified by reasons relating to the protection of industrial and commercial property.

The restriction in question is based on the differing conditions of copyright protection operating across the EU. These differences are inseparably linked to the very existence of those rights. In the present case, the protection of the right of distribution cannot be deemed to give rise to a disproportionate or artificial partitioning of the markets. The application of criminal law provisions may be considered necessary to protect the specific subject-matter of the copyright, which confers inter alia the exclusive right of exploitation. The restriction in question thus seems to be justified and proportionate to the objective pursued.

Accordingly, the Court’s answer is that EU law does not preclude a Member State from bringing an action under national criminal law for the offence of aiding and abetting the prohibited distribution of copyright-protected works where such works are distributed to the public on the territory of that Member State (Germany) in the context of a sale, aimed specifically at the public of that State, concluded in another Member State (Italy) where those works are not protected by copyright or the protection conferred on them is not enforceable as against third parties.

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The tenth edition of the Nice Classification will come into force on 1 January 2012

A new edition of the International Classification of Goods and Services for the Purposes of the Registration of Marks (the “Nice Classification”) will enter into force on 1 January 2012. It will be available on the International Bureau of the World Intellectual Property Organization’s (WIPO) web site, at the following address: www.wipo.int/classifications/en/.

The International Bureau of WIPO will apply the tenth edition of the Nice Classification to all international applications that are received by the Office of origin on or after 1 January 2012.

In conformity with its previous practice, the International Bureau of WIPO will not reclassify, in accordance with the tenth edition of the Nice Classification, the list of goods and services of an international registration that is the subject, after 31 December 2011, of a renewal, subsequent designation or any other change affecting the list of goods and services.

The Nice Classification was established by an Agreement concluded at the Nice Diplomatic Conference, on 15 June 1957, was revised at Stockholm, in 1967, and at Geneva, in 1977, and was amended in 1979.

The countries party to the Nice Agreement constitute a Special Union within the framework of the Paris Union for the Protection of Industrial Property. They have adopted and apply the Nice Classification for the purposes of the registration of marks.

Each of the countries party to the Nice Agreement is obliged to apply the Nice Classification in connection with the registration of marks, either as the principal classification or as a subsidiary classification, and has to include in the official documents and publications relating to its registrations of marks the numbers of the classes of the Classification to which the goods or services for which the marks are registered belong.

Use of the Nice Classification is mandatory not only for the national registration of marks in countries party to the Nice Agreement, but also for the international registration of marks effected by the International Bureau of WIPO, under the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks and under the Protocol Relating to the Madrid Agreement Concerning the International Registration of Marks, and for the registration of marks by the African Intellectual Property Organization (OAPI), by the African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO), by the Benelux Organisation for Intellectual Property (BOIP) and by the European Union Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM).

The Nice Classification is also applied in a number of countries not party to the Nice Agreement.

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A trade mark containing the geographical indication “Cognac” cannot be registered to designate a spirit drink not covered by that indication as the commercial use of such a mark would adversely affect the protected indication

Under the regulation on the protection of geographical indications for spirit drinks (see Regulation (EC) No 110/2008 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 15 January 2008 on the definition, description, presentation, labelling and the protection of geographical indications of spirit drinks and repealing Council Regulation (EEC) No 1576/89), it is possible to register as a geographical indication the name of a country, region or locality from which a spirit drink originates, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of that drink is essentially attributable to its geographical origin. A registration of that kind is made upon application by the Member State of origin of the drink. The application must be accompanied by a technical file listing the specifications which the drink must meet if it is to be able to be designated by the protected geographical indication.

Furthermore, the regulation prohibits the registration of trade marks which may adversely affect a protected geographical indication and states that, as a general rule, where such a mark has already been registered, it must be invalidated. The regulation mentions “Cognac” as a geographical indication identifying wine spirits originating from France.

Gust. Ranin Oy, a Finnish company, applied in Finland for the registration, for spirit drinks, of two figurative marks in the form of a bottle label bearing descriptions of the spirit drinks containing the term “Cognac” and its Finnish translation, “konjakki”. Although the Finnish authorities have accepted the application for registration, the Bureau national interprofessionel du Cognac – a French organisation of cognac producers – contests the legality of that registration before the Finnish courts.

The Korkein hallinto-oikeus (i.e.: Supreme Administrative Court, Finland) asks the Court of Justice whether it is permissible under the regulation to register national trade marks containing the term “Cognac” for products which, in terms of manufacturing method and alcohol content, do not meet the requirements set for the use of the geographical indication “Cognac”.

In its judgment given today (see Judgment in Joined Cases C-4/10 and C-27/10 Bureau national interprofessionel du Cognac v Gust. Ranin Oy), the Court states, first of all, that although the contested marks were registered on 31 January 2003 – that is to say, before the regulation entered into force – that regulation is applicable in the present case. In that connection, the Court observes that the retrospective application of the regulation does not undermine the principle of legal certainty or the principle of the protection of legitimate expectations. The obligation on Member States to prevent the use of a geographical indication identifying spirits for alcoholic beverages which do not originate from the place designated by that indication has existed in EU law since 1 January 1996.

Next, the Court observes that the two Finnish trade marks, registered on 31 January 2003, cannot benefit from the derogation provided for under the regulation, in accordance with which the use of a mark which was acquired before the date of protection of the geographical indication in the country of origin (or before 1 January 1996) is permitted, even if it adversely affects the geographical indication concerned. In that regard, the Court points out that, independently of the protection it enjoys under French law, the term “Cognac” has been protected as a geographical indication under EU law since 15 June 1989.

The Court also finds that the use of a mark containing the term “Cognac” for products which are not covered by that indication constitutes a direct commercial use of the protected indication. Such a use is prohibited by the regulation in so far as it concerns comparable products. The Court finds that this may be the position in the case of spirit drinks.

Likewise, the Court finds that the fact that the two Finnish marks incorporate part of the name “Cognac” means that, when the consumer is confronted with the name of the marks on the bottles of spirit drinks not covered by the protected indication, the image triggered in his mind is that of the product whose designation is protected. The Court points out that such “evocation” is also prohibited under the regulation.

In those circumstances, the Court holds that the Finnish authorities must invalidate the registration of the contested marks.

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A prohibition against infringement, issued by a national court sitting as a Community trademark court, extends, as a rule, to the entire area of the European Union

In its Judgment in Case C-235/09 DHL Express France SAS v Chronopost SA the European Court of Justice ruled that the Council Regulation (EC) No 40/94 of 20 December 1993 on the Community Trade Mark (the Regulation) creates Community arrangements for trademarks whereby undertakings may obtain Community trademarks to which uniform protection is given and which produce their effects throughout the entire area of the European Union.

In order to ensure that protection, the Regulation provides that Member States are to designate in their territories “Community trademark courts” having jurisdiction for infringement actions and, if they are permitted under national law, actions in respect of threatened infringement relating to Community trademarks. Where a Community trademark court finds that a defendant has infringed or threatened to infringe a Community trademark, it is to issue an order prohibiting the defendant from proceeding with the acts which infringed or would infringe the Community trademark. It is also to take such measures in accordance with its national law as are aimed at ensuring that this prohibition is complied with.

In relation to this, the Court ruled that Article 98(1) of the Regulation shall be interpreted as meaning that the scope of the prohibition against further infringement or threatened infringement of a Community trade mark, issued by a Community trademark court whose jurisdiction is based on Articles 93(1) to (4) and 94(1) of the Regulation, extends, as a rule, to the entire area of the European Union.

Furthermore, Article 98(1), second sentence, of the Regulation No 40/94, shall be interpreted as meaning that a coercive measure, such as a periodic penalty payment, ordered by a Community trademark court by application of its national law, in order to ensure compliance with a prohibition against further infringement or threatened infringement which it has issued, has effect in Member States to which the territorial scope of such a prohibition extends other than the Member State of that court, under the conditions laid down, in Chapter III of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters, with regard to the recognition and enforcement of judgments.

Where the national law of one of those other Member States does not contain a coercive measure similar to that ordered by the Community trademark court, the objective pursued by that measure must be attained by the competent court of that other Member State by having recourse to the relevant provisions of its national law which are such as to ensure that the prohibition is complied with in an equivalent manner.

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Cloud computing and International Law related issues

Cloud computing relates to IT services and resources – including infrastructure, platforms and software – which can be provided to customers via the internet, rather than by on-site installations of IT hardware and software (for a technical definition of cloud computing  see National Institute of Standards and Technology).

Cloud computing allow companies to benefit of financial savings, share of costs with the other customers on the same cloud, and efficiency while their IT infrastructure is constantly upgraded and updated by the cloud computing provider.

Notwithstanding such benefits, cloud computing shall be duly considered in light of the risks involved in it such as – among others – security, performance, service availability, contractual remedies and supplier stability.

From an International Law perspective the key difference between traditional IT outsourcing and cloud computing is “where” the data resides or is processed as data may be dispersed across and stored in multiple data centers all over the world. Moreover, the use of a cloud platform can result in multiple copies of such data being stored in different locations. This is true even for a “private cloud” that is run by a single customer.

In fact, corporate customers shall consider that cloud computing is vulnerable to damage or interruption from earthquakes, terrorist attacks, floods, fires, power loss, telecommunications failures, computer viruses, computer denial of service attacks, or other attempts to harm the relevant systems. Data centers may be located in areas with a high risk of major earthquakes or may be subject to break-ins, sabotage, and intentional acts of vandalism, and to potential disruptions if the operators of these facilities have financial difficulties.

Above all, systems are not fully redundant, and disaster recovery planning cannot account for all eventualities.

In addition, cloud computing products and services are highly technical and complex and may contain errors or vulnerabilities. Any errors or vulnerabilities in such products or services, or damage to or failure of such systems, could result in interruptions in the services, which could reduce revenues and profits, or damage the corporate brand. Finally, internet, technology, and media companies own large numbers of patents, copyrights, trademarks, and trade secrets and frequently enter into litigation based on allegations of infringement or other violations of intellectual property rights related to the cloud.

In light of the above, as corporate customer explore cloud computing as IT outsourcing strategy, there are several legal issues that shall be carefully considered. Implications of outsourced data handling, contract terms and conditions, intellectual property rights and proper insurance coverage are among others the key elements to be addressed from an International Law perspective. Therefore, the carry out of a due diligence of the proposed cloud vendor is a crucial risk mitigation step.

Among others, the following key issues shall be addressed:

  • Location: where the data are located at a given time and which law governs the contract and settlement of potential disputes; the customer may or may not be able to control this issue by contract as the applicable law in some jurisdictions can prevent the application of the relevant contractual provisions;
  • Security and Performance: backup, data restoration, disaster recovery, security and service levels applicable; what to do if the data center crashes as a result of an event of “force majeure” or if the Internet crashes or the cloud is hacked? How these risks can be allocated by contract?
  • Legislation and Regulatory (including Privacy): each jurisdiction provide for stringent rules on defence, health, and financial services related information, which directly impact on cloud computing. Stringent regulatory provisions and restrictions concerning the transfer of certain types of data across borders and export or trade restrictions may impact on where data in the cloud can be stored and who can store it or on the transfer itself of the data and applications to and from the cloud;
  • Intellectual Property: IP rights granted to the customer and IP claims against vendor shall be properly assessed and trade secret and attorney-client privileged information protection shall be mitigated by appropriate non-disclosure provisions;
  • Data Retention: there are several legal and tax reasons in each jurisdiction which require corporate customers to retain data longer than cloud vendor may be prepared to do;
  • Insurance related issues.
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Commission adopts revised competition rules on horizontal co-operation agreements

The European Commission has revised its rules for the assessment of co-operation agreements between competitors, so called horizontal co-operation agreements. As it is often vital for companies to work together to achieve synergies, there exist a vast number of horizontal co-operation agreements in many industries.

“Horizontal co-operation agreements” are agreements concluded between competitors (as opposed to vertical agreements which are between companies at different levels in the supply chain), for example with a view to co-operate on research and development, production, purchasing, commercialisation, standardisation, or exchange of information. Horizontal co-operation can be pro-competitive and lead to substantial economic benefits, allowing companies to respond to increasing competitive pressures and a changing market place driven by globalisation. However, where the parties have market power, horizontal co-operation can also lead to serious competition problems.

The texts update and further clarify the application of competition rules in this area so that companies can better assess whether their co-operation agreements are in line with those rules. Modifications concern mainly the areas of standardisation, information exchange, and research and development (R&D).

Today the Commission has adopted a revised set of Guidelines and two Regulations which describe how competitors can co-operate without infringing EU competition rules. The “Horizontal Guidelines” provide a framework for the analysis of the most common forms of horizontal co-operation such as agreements in the areas of R&D, production, purchasing, commercialisation, standardisation, standard terms, and information exchange.

The two Regulations exempt from the competition rules certain R&D, specialisation and production agreements that are unlikely to raise competition concerns. Two key features of the reform are a new chapter on information exchange in the Horizontal Guidelines and a substantial revision of the chapter on standardisation agreements.

The Guidelines promote a standard-setting system that is open and transparent and thereby increases the transparency of licensing costs for intellectual property rights used in standards. The revised standardisation chapter sets out the criteria under which the Commission will not take issue with a standard-setting agreement (“safe harbour”). Moreover, the chapter gives detailed guidance on standardisation agreements that do not fulfil the safe harbour criteria, to allow companies to assess whether they are in line with EU competition law.

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By authorising the use of the name “pure chocolate” Italy has infringed EU Law

The European Court of Justice (see judgment in Case C-47/09 Commission v Italian Republic) finds that Italy has failed to fulfil its obligations under EU law concerning the labelling of cocoa and chocolate products which harmonises the sales names for such products (see Directive 2000/13/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 20 March 2000 on the approximation of the laws of the Member States relating to the labelling, presentation and advertising of foodstuffs Directive 2000/36/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 23 June 2000 relating to cocoa and chocolate products intended for human consumption).

The Commission brought infringement proceedings against Italy before the Court of Justice, claiming that Italy has introduced an additional sales name for chocolate products, depending on whether they can be regarded as “pure” or not, which constitutes an infringement of the directive and conflicts with the case-law of the Court. According to the Commission, the consumer must be informed whether or not substitute vegetable fats are present in the chocolate through the labelling and not through the use of a separate sales name.

Where they contain up to 5% of vegetable fats other than cocoa butter (“substitute vegetable fats”), their name remains unchanged but their labelling must display, in bold lettering, the specific statement “contains vegetable fats in addition to cocoa butter”.

In the case of chocolate products containing only cocoa butter, that information may be given on the labelling, provided the information is correct, neutral, objective, and does not mislead the consumer.

Under the Italian legislation, the phrase “pure chocolate” may be added to or incorporated in the sales names, or indicated elsewhere on the labelling of products not containing substitute vegetable fats, and administrative fines are laid down for any infringement of those rules.

The Court notes as a preliminary point that the European Union has introduced full harmonisation of sales names for cocoa and chocolate products in order to guarantee the single nature of the internal market. Those names are both compulsory and reserved for the products listed in the EU legislation. That being so, the Court holds that that legislation makes no provision for the sales name “pure chocolate” and does not permit its introduction by a national legislature. In those circumstances, the Italian legislation runs counter to the system of sales names created by EU law.

The Court notes also that the system of double names introduced by the Italian legislature does not comply either with the requirements of EU law concerning the need for the consumer to have information that is correct, neutral and objective, and that does not mislead him.

The Court has heldthat the addition of substitute vegetable fats to cocoa and chocolate products which satisfy the minimum contents required under EU legislation does not substantially alter their nature to the point where they are transformed into different products and therefore does not justify a difference in their sales names.

The Court holds, however, that, under EU legislation, the inclusion elsewhere in the labelling of a neutral and objective statement informing consumers of the absence from the product of vegetable fats other than cocoa butter would be sufficient to ensure that consumers are given correct information.

Consequently, the Court concludes that, to the extent it enables the coexistence of two categories of sales names essentially designating the same product, the Italian legislation is likely to mislead consumers and thus interfere with their right to obtain correct, neutral and objective information.

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The Lego brick is not registrable as a Community trademark

The Lego brick is not registrable as a Community trademark as it is a sign consisting exclusively of the shape of goods necessary to obtain a technical result.

The European Court of Justice (see judgment in Case C-48/09 Lego Juris v OHIM) finds that the main purpose of the prohibition on registration as a trademark of any sign consisting of the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result is to prevent trademark law granting an undertaking a monopoly on technical solutions or functional characteristics of a product. Thus, undertakings may not use trademark law in order to perpetuate, indefinitely, exclusive rights relating to technical solutions.

When the shape of a product merely incorporates the technical solution developed by the manufacturer of that product and patented by it, protection of that shape as a trademark once the patent has expired would considerably reduce the opportunity for other undertakings to use that technical solution. In accordance with the law of the European Union, technical solutions are capable of protection only for a limited period, so that subsequently they may be freely used by all economic operators.

In addition, the Court finds that by restricting the prohibition on registration to signs which consist “exclusively” of the shape of goods which is “necessary” to obtain a technical result the legislature duly took into account that any shape of goods is, to a certain extent, functional and that it would therefore be inappropriate to refuse to register a shape of goods as a trademark solely on the ground that it has functional characteristics. By the terms “exclusively” and “necessary”, the legislature sought to ensure that solely shapes of goods which only incorporate a technical solution, and whose registration as a trademark would actually impede the use of that technical solution by other undertakings, are not to be registered.

As regards the fact that the ground for refusal covers any sign consisting “exclusively” of the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result, the Court finds that that condition is fulfilled when, as in the present case, all the essential characteristics of a shape perform a technical function, the presence of one or more minor arbitrary elements with no technical function being irrelevant in that context.

The Court also finds that the position of an undertaking which has developed a technical solution cannot be protected – with regard to competitors placing on the market slavish copies of the product shape incorporating exactly the same solution – by conferring a monopoly on that undertaking through registering as a trademark the three-dimensional sign consisting of that shape, but can, where appropriate, be examined in the light of the rules on unfair competition.

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European Commission adopts revised competition rules for distribution of goods and services

The European Commission has adopted a Regulation (see Commission Regulation (EU) No 330/2010 of 20 April 2010 on the application of Article 101(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union to categories of vertical agreements and concerted practices) block exempting agreements between manufacturers and distributors for the sale of products and services.

The Regulation and accompanying Guidelines take into account the development, in the last 10 years, of the Internet as a force for online sales and for cross-border commerce, something that the Commission wants to promote as it increases consumer choice and price competition.

The basic principle remains that companies are free to decide how their products are distributed, provided their agreements do not contain price-fixing or other hardcore restrictions, and both manufacturer and distributor do not have more than a 30% market share. Approved distributors are free to sell on the Internet without limitation on quantities, customers’ location and restrictions on prices.

The new rules introduce the same 30% market share threshold for distributors and retailers to take into account the fact that some buyers may also have market power with potentially negative effects on competition. This change is beneficial for small and medium-sized enterprises (SME’s), whether manufacturers or retailers, which could otherwise be excluded from the distribution market.

This does not mean agreements between companies with higher market shares are illegal. Only that they must assess whether their agreements contain restrictive clauses and, whether they would be justified.

The new rules also specifically, address the question of online sales. Once authorised, distributors shall be free to sell on their websites as they do in their traditional shops and physical points of sale. For selective distribution, this means that manufacturers cannot limit the quantities sold over the Internet or charge higher prices for products to be sold online. The Guidelines further clarify the concepts of “active” and “passive” sales for exclusive distribution. Terminating transactions or re-routing consumers after they have entered their credit card details showing a foreign address will not be accepted.

With the new rules in force, dealers will now have a clear basis and incentives to develop online activities to reach, and be reached, by customers throughout the EU and fully take advantage of the internal market.

The new rules will come into force on 1 June 2010 and will be valid until 2022, with a one-year transitional phase.

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