15 January, 2019

Military Grade News - CJEU Advocate General Opines on Copyright and the Freedom of Expression

IP and freedom of speech have always had a difficult relationship. What could be freer that the ability to use any works you have seen, and share them with a wider potentially different audience, while IP seeks to protect the interests of the original author, even sometimes at the expense of the rightsholders. These issues often come to blows in the courts, and a recent case in the CJEU has brought this conversation back to the forefront. Can you protect works using copyright, even with strong issues of freedom of speech underpinning the sharing of those documents? We found out the precursor to the European answer to this question late last October.

The case of Funke Medien NRW GmbH v Federal Republic of Germany concerned military status reports drawn up for the German government on a weekly basis, which detail developments of deployed forces abroad. These reports are subsequently sent to e.g. various members of the Federal Parliament and the Ministry of Defense for briefing purposes. The documents are classed as classified and restricted. Funke Media published summaries of some of these reports, having acquired copies of them through potentially illicit means as an application to access them was rejected by the German government. They were subsequently taken to court for copyright infringement, with the matter ultimately ending with Advocate General Szpunar.

The balancing act between ensuring freedom of expression, but still protecting copyright owners' rights, is a difficult one, since the interests are often very much in competition with each other. The Court was tasked in balancing this difficult dichotomy.

Copyright through numerous exceptions allows for some freedoms when it comes to using copyright materials, including for critique, satire and review. However, the exceptions are by no means very broad (like in the US under fair use), and could be used to curtail genuine public discourse and commentary.

The Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union sets out the various rights enjoyed within the Union, and Article 51 asserts those rights onto any EU legislation implemented by Member States. In this case, Article 11 is in contention, which gives everyone the right of freedom of expression.

Other methods might've worked better to keep matters 'secret'
The main question that the Advocate General sought to answer is whether the grounds asserted by the German government are good enough to trump the Claimant's right to freedom of expression. The Advocate General did, however, note that as the copyright holder in this case is a Member State, it does not enjoy the same rights as the people living in that Member State. He distinguished the matter in that "...the State cannot rely on the fundamental right to property as a means of restricting another fundamental right guaranteed by the ECHR or the Charter", even though the State might have a remedy under civil rights.

The Advocate General summarized the position as "...If the State were able to invoke its individual rights, other than the public interest, in order to limit fundamental rights, the result would be the destruction of those fundamental rights". The State would have to put forward an argument under public interest to protect the works in question in order to limit the fundamental rights guaranteed in the Charter. In his view, the State fails under the public interest argument.

He then turned to the matter of copyright protection offered for the military reports. Copyright at its core aims to achieve two objectives: (i) to protect the personal relationship between the author and his work as his intellectual creation; and (ii) to enable authors to exploit their works economically.

While Germany does own the copyright in the military reports, the country itself cannot be construed as the author of those works. Even though they were drafted by State employees, strictly speaking the works themselves do not have an author at all. The Advocate General saw that, as copyright endeavors to protect the relationship between the author and the works created, the State's interests cannot be protected in works it isn't the author of. As he put succinctly: "...where there is no author, there is no copyright, in the form of either moral or property rights".

Similarly, as the State does not seek to profit from the works themselves economically, but to protect the contents from public scrutiny, the Advocate General deemed the matter outside of the remit of copyright.

In short, "...the answer should be that Article 11 of the Charter, read in conjunction with Article 52(1) thereof, must be interpreted as precluding a Member State from invoking copyright under Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of [the] Directive in order to prevent the communication to the public, in the context of a debate concerning matters of public interest, of confidential documents emanating from that Member State. That interpretation does not prevent the Member State from applying, in compliance with EU law, other provisions of its domestic law, including those relating to the protection of confidential information".

The Advocate General clearly sought to protect the interests of those seeking to share and disseminate information, while the State attempted to curtail those efforts through incorrect means. Copyright clearly was not the appropriate vehicle to protect the legitimate interests in keeping military documents secret, and the State therefore could pursue it through other avenues. In the end, it remains to be seen what the CJEU rules in this case.

14 November, 2018

This Tastes Right - CJEU Rules Out Copyright Protection for Taste of Cheese

Sometimes a case comes around that both baffles, and excites intellectual property specialists. Something that makes you wonder why it had gone that far in the first place (let alone the costs), but nonetheless is something that we all want an answer to from the courts - and more often than not never do. Such a case has been the cheese taste copyright case, which seeks to answer the age old question; can you have copyright in the taste of cheese? This writer cannot even count the number of times he's wondered this very question, and finally, we have an answer, as the CJEU handed down their decision earlier this week.

The case of Levola Hengelo BV v Smilde Foods BV concerned the cheese "Heksenkaas", which is a spreadable dip containing cream cheese and fresh herbs, which was created by a food retailer in 2007, which then sold the rights to Levola. The manufacture process for Heksenkaas has been granted a patent in 2012, but no other registered rights vested in the product. Levola's competitor, a fellow cheese-making company, Smilde, sold a product called "Witte Wievenkaas", which, according to Levola, infringed on the 'taste' of Heksenkaas, and brought proceedings against Smilde, ultimately ending up with the CJEU.

The referring court asked the CJEU two questions relating to the protection of food through copyright.

The CJEU tackled the first question, which, in essence, asked "...whether Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as precluding (i) the taste of a food product from being protected by copyright under that directive and (ii) national legislation from being interpreted in such a way that it grants copyright protection to such a taste".

The Court considered that, for copyright to vest in the 'taste' of cheese, it would need to be classified as a 'work' under the Directive. This comprises of two cumulative factors: (i) the work has to be 'original' in the sense that it is the author's own intellectual creation; and (ii) only something which is the expression of the author's own intellectual creation may be classified as a 'work'.

In addition to the Directive, the Court noted that the above would also have to comply with the Berne Convention, more specifically Articles 1-21 (which deal with the requirements for copyright protection under the Convention). Specifically, copyright protection would only be afforded to "...expressions, but not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such".

Heksenkaas or not, cheese is amazing (Source)
Following the provisions above the Court considered that for there to be a 'work' under the Directive, "...the subject matter protected by copyright must be expressed in a manner which makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity, even though that expression is not necessarily in permanent form". This means that authorities need to be able to identify the subject matter of what is being protected clearly and precisely, and for others in the marketplace to ascertain the same. The subject matter of protection should also not be subjective, but one that can be observed objectively bu anyone.

Applying this to the question at hand, the Court noted that "...[t]he taste of a food product cannot, however, be pinned down with precision and objectivity", as it is not in a tangible or observable form (although one can experience it through the tasting of the goods). There are also many variables in the sensations and experience of any particular taste, which change over time and through consumption habits etc. It is also not possible, at least in the state of current scientific developments, to precisely and objectively identify the taste of a food product that distinguishes it from other food products (although this writer wonders if a deep analysis of the food's compounds would get us closer, even though this, again, changes with the ingredients, their age, storage methods and the like).

The Court therefore concluded that the taste of a food product therefore cannot be classified as a 'work' under the Directive, and would not be protected by copyright. Similarly, national legislation cannot protect the same subject matter in compliance with EU laws.

Due to the negative answer to the first question, the second question was not necessary to be dealt with.

The CJEU was clearly correct in their decision when it came to the taste of cheese, as it is something that one cannot easily pin down and therefore clearly protect. Once food chemistry and science develop to a point where we can isolate these differences, it might be possible to actually show what the taste of a given food item is, and potentially protect it under copyright. While waiting for this, we can eat our imitation Heksenkaas with reckless abandon.

01 November, 2018

Fixing Your Rights - The US Copyright Office Expands Right to Repair

The right to repair the devices, vehicles and other goods you own seems to be a given right when looked at on the face of it. After all, you bought the item, therefore you should be able to maintain it and try to prolong its lifecycle in your use; however, this is not exactly this simple. Some IP provisions hinder or even outright prevent the repair, modification or tinkering of those goods, particularly through copyright in proprietary systems to those goods. Many have fought over the right to repair, discussed on this blog before, but the line hasn't clearly been drawn in the sand as to what is okay and what isn't. In the light of this, the US Copyright Office was recently petitioned to rectify this wrong, and the right to repair movement took great strides in allowing this practices.

As a primer, under 17 USC 1201, a person is not allowed to "…circumvent a technological measure that effectively controls access to a work protected under this title". These types of measures include digital rights management software, or the encryption of software or underlying code in sophisticated machines or goods. More recent examples include the disabling of iPhones that detect third-party repairs or parts, and John Deere preventing tractors from being repaired under their user licences.

In a ruling released last week (including a very thorough background document here), the Copyright Office decided that owners of certain goods and vehicles could repair those devices without infringing on copyright.

Firstly, the Office allowed the 'jailbreaking' of computer programs (i.e. gaining access to the operating system to allow the installation and running of unauthorized software) relating to 'voice assistant devices like Amazon's Echo or Google's Home. The exemption already applied to smartphones, and is now extended to these types of devices.

Not all damage is fixable, even with extensive rights
The Office also focussed on computer programs that disabled the repair and diagnosis of land vehicles, specifically personal automobiles, commercial vehicles or mechanized agricultural vehicles (including any telematics systems, i.e. an in-vehicle computer). When the circumvention of the software is needed to repair, diagnose and lawfully modify the vehicles, the Office considers this circumvention to be lawful. They also expanded this to include the same for smartphones, home appliances such as fridges and HVAC or electrical systems. What needs to be noted is that 'maintenance' specifically only includes the "…servicing of the device or system in order to make it work in accordance with its original specifications and any changes to those specifications authorized for that device or system".

Any repairs discussed above are also allowed to be done by third-party vendors, and not simply the owner of the device and/or vehicle. This is a huge step, as the third-party repair market is important to support those who do not have the technical know-how or inclination to do their own repairs.The ruling also does not exempt some circumventions, including any non-land vehicles (such as planes and boats), or devices that do not fit into the categories set out above. One can understand the hesitation to give a very broad exemption by the Copyright Office, as this could have unintended consequences or provide for uses that should not be allowed for. This distinction will undoubtedly change, but incremental changes can hinder the steps towards progress in the long run. The Office also denied the right to repair in relation to gaming consoles, which raised strong concerns of piracy if allowed.

The expansion of the right to repair devices and vehicles is an important part of protecting the environment and minimising unnecessary purchases of new devices or vehicles when the repair of the old one would have been prohibitively expensive. Many advocates for this right will rejoice at the ruling, while manufacturers will be less than thrilled losing control over the devices or vehicles once sold to the end-user. It remains to be seen whether the Office will expand these exemptions in the future, but seeing their inclination to do so, this writer thinks these rights will only be expanded on once new technologies become more commonplace and the need for their repair necessary.

Source: iFixit

18 September, 2018

I Spy with My Little IP - An IP Address Not Enough to Identify Copyright Infringer, Says US Court of Appeals

The identification of infringers of intellectual property is incredibly important in order to mount a proper and, above all, fair prosecution of those who are infringing on your rights. This is, however, exceedingly difficult in the Internet age, where the person downloading a movie, for example, is difficult to tell from a household of four, let alone the swathes of nameless ‘individuals’ occupying Internet services. The IP address of a given for each computer, identifying them separately in a network when connected to it, has long been one way of distinguishing the infringers from other users. The protocol still has its issues in certainty, and therefore, is it a reliable piece of evidence when establishing liability? The US Court of Appeals took on this question not long ago.

The case of Cobbler Nevada LLC v Thomas Gonzales concerned the movie ‘The Cobbler’, for which Cobbler Nevada owned the copyrights to. Due to its popularity, the movie was swiftly shared on many websites online using the BitTorrent protocol. Cobbler Nevada identified one IP address in Nevada which downloaded and distributed the movie without authorization, later further identified as being Mr Gonzales’ internet service. The connection, however, was a freely accessible one, which was used by both residents and visitors at an adult care home. Legal counsel for Cobbler Nevada determined that they were unable to confirm that Mr Gonzales was the infringer in question. Nevertheless the company filed a complaint against him, alleging they copied and distributed the work online, basing this on the fact that he was the subscriber of the IP address used to do so.

The crux of the matter is whether the IP address used in the matter is enough to prove that Mr Gonzales had indeed been the infringing party. The Court correctly highlighted that “…a particular IP address (i.e., an account holder)… does not mean that the internet subscriber is also the infringer… simply establishing an account does not mean the subscriber is even accessing the internet, and multiple devices can access the internet under the same IP address”. This fact is further exacerbated by the fact that many people were able to freely access the connection at the location.

Cobbler Nevada promptly moved to more traditional
identification methods
The US court have firmly established that, for a claim to be established, you “…must show… the defendant himself violated one or more of the plaintiff’s exclusive rights”. The Court quickly determined that Cobbler Nevada had not done so in this case. As discussed above, their internal investigations yielded no confirmed result, and clearly led to unsubstantiated allegations of infringement. The claim was later amended to simply refer to the IP address and no particular defendant, which still left the claim with no clearly identified infringer.

The second claim revolved around contributory infringement, i.e. that Mr Gonzales had encouraged or facilitated the infringing activities using his network connection. To put into more concrete terms: "...one who, with knowledge of the infringing activity, induces, causes or materially contributes to the infringing conduct of another". Cobbler Nevada claimed that Mr Gonzales had failed to adequately police his Internet connection, especially in the light of several notices sent to him regarding the matter. The Court, yet again, dismissed this allegation out of hand, as the perfunctory allegation does not sufficiently link him to the alleged infringement. The courts have previously denied contributory liability merely through the possibility of the use of a technology to infringe in Sony Corporation v Universal City Studios (more on which here), which similarly would apply to an open Internet network.

Contributory infringement requires two strands of liability: (i) actively encouraging (or inducing) infringement through specific acts; or (ii) distributing a product distributees use to infringe copyrights, if the product is not capable of ‘substantial’ or ‘commercially significant’ non-infringing uses.

Cobbler Nevada lacked any allegations that Mr Gonzales had infringed along the first strand. They had done no acts to encourage anyone to infringe any rights, or materially contributed to the same. Similarly his Internet service was not capable of distributing a product or service that is not capable of substantial or significant non-infringing uses. The Court noted that Internet service owners should not have an affirmative duty to actively monitor their Internet connection.

The Court ultimately dismissed Cobbler Nevada's claim.

The case is an important milestone in establishing firmer rules of identification on the Internet. Should we simply use the closes possible approximator of liability we could expose swathes of people to direct or indirect liability, which is clearly not the intention of the legislation. While the lack of certainty in using IP addresses to identify potential infringers has been established before, this is an important reminder of the fact. Even so, infringers could face liability when identified via an IP address, so the decision is by no means absolution for the wicked.

14 August, 2018

No Free-For-All - Is Posting a Freely Available Image Online Copyright Infringement?

Posting images online, whether it is on your own website or otherwise, is so easy these days and often feels quite harmless. The lack of effort and often consequence for the copying and sharing an image, even if protected by copyright, can lead to what feels like a dissemination near free-for-all on intellectual property on the Internet. With this in mind, where does one draw the line on what is allowed and what isn't, and how do we assert control over any unauthorised sharing, even if your content is freely available on different websites? The CJEU took on this question early this month, and handed down a decision that has prompted a great deal of discussion in the general public.

The case of Land Nordrhein-Westfalen v Dirk Renckhoff concerned a photograph taken by Mr Renckhoff. This picture was exclusively licenced to an online travel portal for use, and had no restrictions on the website where it was posted. In 2009 a school student in Waltrop (within the Nord Rhine-Westphalia region of Germany) used the image in their presentation, which was subsequently posted on the school's website. Mr Renckhoff subsequently sued the school district for copyright infringement for the posting of the image on the school's website.

Only one question was referred to the CJEU, which asked "…whether the concept of ‘communication to the public’, within the meaning of Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29, must be interpreted as meaning that it covers the posting on one website of a photograph which has been previously published without restriction and with the consent of the copyright holder on another website".

As many will be aware, 'communication to the public' includes two cumulative criteria that need to be considered: (i) an act of communication; and (ii) the communication of that work to a 'public'.

The first criterion simply concerns an act where "…a work is made available to a public in such a way that the persons forming that public may access it, irrespective of whether or not they avail themselves of that opportunity". The Court swiftly determined that the posting of the work on the school's website did amount to 'an act of communication'.

The danger of copyright infringement made the creation of
school presentations all the more thrilling
In terms of the second criterion, a 'public' "…covers all potential users of the website on which the photograph is posted, that is an indeterminate and fairly large number recipients". Again, the Court quickly determined that the act had been a communication to a 'public' under this definition. However, the Court did note that for the act to be an infringing 'communication to the public' it needs to be done so to a 'new public', i.e. "…a public that was not already taken into account by the copyright holders when they authorised the initial communication to the public of their work".

Looking at the right to prevent the unauthorized communication of works, the Court saw that "…[s]uch a right of a preventive nature would be deprived of its effectiveness if it were to be held that the posting on one website of a work previously posted on another website with the consent of the copyright holder did not constitute a communication to a new public". The Directive, under Article 3(3), does not exhaust the rights held in works once they have been communicated to the public by the rightsholder or an authorized third-party.

Ultimately they concluded that the communication of a work in a separate website would amount to a communication to a new public under the Directive, as the publication of the work was only intended for the users of the authorized website, and no other third-party sites. Limitations on the copying or use of the particular work are irrelevant in this assessment.

The Court did, however, have to navigate the issues set by their earlier decision in Svensson and BestWater (discussed more here and here), which allowed for the sharing of links to content that was freely available, as the intended public for those works was, in essence, the entirety of the Internet.

The cases were distinguished as they related to hyperlinks, and not copies of available works. The former is required for the proper operation of the Internet, whereas works themselves would not contribute to this aim to the same extent. Hyperlinks can also be disabled by the removal of the website it links to; whereas once an image has been copied elsewhere its removal is much harder. The Court therefore clearly emphasised the preventative nature of their conclusion, rather than the imposition of arbitrary preclusions to the sharing of content (innocent or not).

In short, the Court concluded that "…the concept of ‘communication to the public’… must be interpreted as meaning that it covers the posting on one website of a photograph previously posted, without any restriction preventing it from being downloaded and with the consent of the copyright holder, on another website".

The decision is somewhat unsurprising, as the exhaustion of rights through the posting of any content on an authorized website would be devastating to many creating industries. The Court upheld the rightsholder's rights in their works, even if posted innocently on a school website. The case did briefly discuss exemptions relating to education and research, and one has to note that this was not a big part of the case and therefore not discussed at length. Any such use as in the case would most likely be fair use; the Court simply made sure that no rights were exhausted even if this were the case.

07 August, 2018

But I've Done Nothing Wrong! - Can You Infringe a Trademark Without Using the Trademark At All?

Quite often the simple use of a mark will amount to trademark infringement (to put things very simply). While there is some level of uncertainty that related to the specific assessment of infringement, many practitioners have no problems establishing trademark infringement when a particular mark is used by an unauthorised third-party. Even with that in mind, a recent case in the CJEU has challenged the simplicity in assessing trademark infringement; can you infringe a mark without ever using it? This puzzling question landed on the CJEU's desk late last month, which sets an interesting precedent for future infringement cases.

The case of Mitsubishi Shoji Kaisha Limited v Duma Forklifts NV concerns the sale of Mitsubishi forklifts, for which Mitsubishi's European arm has the exclusive rights to. The forklifts of course include the Mitsubishi logo, which the company has had as a registered trademark for nearly 20 years (EUTM 117713), and its name. Duma is a company that specialises in the sale of new and second-hand forklifts, including some under its own brands, and historically operated as the sub-dealer for Mitsubishi forklifts in Belgium. Since then Duma parallel imported Mitsubishi forklifts from outside the EEA to Europe, without authorisation, removing all signs from them identical to ones owned by Mitsubishi, and bringing them up to spec under EU regulations. All identification plates and serial numbers were also replaced. Mitsubishi took Duma to court over trademark infringement over the matter, with the case ending up all the way at the CJEU this summer.

The referring court asked the CJEU two questions, which it considered together, asking in essence "…whether Article 5 of Directive 2008/95 and Article 9 of Regulation No 207/2009 must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a mark may oppose a third party removing all the signs identical to that mark and affixing other signs, without its consent, on products placed in the customs warehouse… with a view to importing them or trading them in the EEA where they have never yet been marketed". The articles are identical, so we're only concerned with the interpretation of the newer 2009 Regulation.

The Regulation, as decided in the Davidoff case, allows for the marketing of goods outside the EU, as is the case here, without losing your rights in the EU to those goods and the marks they bare, so long as those marks are registered within the EU. The Regulation also affords the proprietor the right to protect those rights within the EU against third parties, should they employ an identical mark in the marketing and/or selling of the goods in the EU.

After chiselling the badge off of his car for an hour
Tony realized it was a big mistake
What makes this case tricky is the removal of all Mitsubishi marks from the forklifts, and necessary modifications to comply with EU law, before they are imported into the EU. The court did, however, consider that the removal of the marks "…deprives the proprietor of that trade mark of the benefit of the essential right… to control the initial marketing in the EEA of goods bearing that mark". The placing of new marks on the goods also, according to the court, adversely affects the functioning of the original mark in the EU. The court considers that, as discussed in the TOP Logistics case "…any act by a third party preventing the proprietor of a registered trade mark in one or more Member States from exercising his right to control the first placing of goods bearing that mark on the market in the EEA, by its very nature undermines that essential function of the trade mark" (emphasis added). Clearly the court's thinking is that the act of removal should be reserved only for the proprietor of the mark, and Duma undertaking to do so undermines the function of that mark, or at least the choice in the use of the mark in the territory by the proprietor.

The Court also noted that consumers could identify the forklifts simply from their outwards appearance, and the removal of the marks from those goods and the subsequent harm to the marks would only be accentuated by that fact.

The removal of the mark additionally precludes the proprietor "…from being able to retain customers by virtue of the quality of its goods and affects the functions of investment and advertising of the mark where, as in the present case, the product in question is not still marketed under the trade mark of the proprietor on that market by him or with his consent". The placing of the goods without the mark further highlights the Court's reluctance to allow for the choice of introducing the goods to the market to be taken away from the proprietor by a third-party. They also emphasise the loss in reputation and economic value, among other things, due to the removal and subsequent marketing/sale of the goods in the EU by the third-party, and not by the proprietor.

The Court noted that the removal of the marks is also, in their view, a way to try and avoid the possibility of the prevention of the goods' importation into the EU by the proprietor, further adding to their reluctance to take away power from the proprietor (and therefore preventing distorted competition).

Importantly, the Court saw that the in concept of 'use in the course of trade' (a key component in establishing infringement) "…an operation consisting, on the part of the third party, of removing signs identical to the trade mark in order to affix its own signs, involves active conduct on the part of that third party, which, since it is done with a view to importing those goods into the EEA and marketing them there and is therefore carried out in the exercise of a commercial activity for economic advantage… may be regarded as a use in the course of trade". This only emphasises the removal of the choice from the proprietor, and the Court is clearly protecting the ability to do so for the proprietor, and also the easy avoidance of trademark infringement.

In short: "…Article 5 of Directive 2008/95 and Article 9 of Regulation No 207/2009 must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a mark is entitled to oppose a third party, without his consent, removing all the signs identical to that mark and affixing other signs on the products placed in the customs warehouse, such as in the main proceedings, with a view to importing them or trading them in the EEA where they have never yet been marketed".

The decision is definitely an oddity, but to this writer at least, is clearly a marker being put down by the Court to protect the interests and rights of trademark holders, and to prevent the avoidance of infringement through the removal of registered marks from goods. What makes the decision weird is that the Court is saying that the removal of marks equates to the use of an identical trademark, even though no such mark exists on the goods themselves. In the end, it seems like the decision is one that will stand out, particularly from a trademark infringement perspective, and it will be interesting to see whether the decision will have more significant impact than you would initially think.

31 July, 2018

KitKat Cut - The KitKat Shape Trademark Ultimately Rejected by CJEU

The KitKat shape trademark saga has been detailed on this blog in great detail, going back several years (e.g. here, here and here). The fight over the chocolate bar shape seems to have gone on forever, and this writer thought he would be old and grey before the matter ultimately concluded. After Advocate General Wathelet's opinion in April, the CJEU has finally taken the matter on, and the decision will decide the fate of the current KitKat shape registration.

While the facts of the case have been discussed extensively, it is still useful to recite the basics to anyone not familiar with the background. The case of Société des produits Nestlé v Mondelez UK Holdings & Services concerns the registration of the shape of the KitKat chocolate bar (EUTM 2632529), owned by Nestle. Cadbury challenged the registration, seeking to invalidate it, with the matter ending up with the CJEU 11 years later.

The case revolves around Article 52(2) of the CTM Regulation, which allows for the registration of marks that have acquired distinctiveness through the use of the mark in conjunction with the goods or services. The distinctive character of the mark has to exist in the entirety of the EU for it to avoid invalidation.

What underpinned the matter was whether evidence has to be proved for the entirety of the EU, and not just a select sample of countries. In the case of August Storck KG v OHIM, the CJEU saw that a mark can be registered under Article 7(3) (which has to be read in conjunction with Article 52 above) "…only if evidence is provided that it has acquired, in consequence of the use which has been made of it, distinctive character in the part of the [EU] in which it did not, ab initio, have such character". If no distinctiveness exists in relation to the mark from the very beginning, acquired distinctiveness would have to be shown in the EU.

No amount of cute advertising
could save the KitKat shape
When it comes to acquired distinctiveness, the Court emphasised that, for any mark devoid of inherent distinctiveness, "…evidence be submitted, in respect of each individual Member State, of the acquisition by that mark of distinctive character through use, the evidence submitted must be capable of establishing such acquisition throughout the Member States of the European Union". Evidence therefore does not have to be produced for each individual Member State, but can be produced in a way that shows acquired distinctiveness due to proximity in geography, culture or linguistics, and therefore acquired via another Member State even in the absence of evidence for that particular Member State.

The assessment of whether the evidence produced is enough to give the mark acquired distinctiveness in the EU is a matter for the EUIPO or its appellate courts in any given case.

The CJEU agreed with the General Court's decision, which rejected the argument by Nestle that the evidence covered the entirety of the EU, or a substantial part of it, leading to sufficient coverage. The Court therefore rejected all of Nestle's appeals, and the mark was invalidated.

The decision is a huge culmination of years of litigation, but by no means is the end of the KitKat shape trademark. While evidence was lacking for the current registration with regards to Belgium, Ireland, Greece and Portugal, Nestle are still within their rights to apply for a new registration, producing evidence to cover any missing Member States. Due to the clear monetary value of the mark, it is clear that Nestle will pursue to register the shape one way or another; however, this might just be the beginnings of a reboot for this particular litigation series