03 September, 2019

The One and Only - Advocate General Hogan Considers the Limits of Protected Geographical Indicators and their Individual Terms

Protected Geographical Indicators (or PGIs for short) are a crucial part of being able to identify local goods that have a particular quality and/or manufacturing methods that are unique to a particular region of the EU. Seeing a PGI in packaging can guarantee that the goods you're buying are legitimate, whether it is looking for that special something in Bolognian Mortadella or Gruyère cheese, it is key to distinguishing the 'real stuff' from the pretenders. Even so, sometimes the PGIs can become almost generic or the terminology used within it separated to hint at the PGI without actually containing the whole term. That being said, where does one draw the line when naming products similarly to PGIs? Luckily, the CJEU is slated to decide this question, and Advocate General Hogan gave their thoughts on this earlier this summer.

The case of Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena v BALEMA GmbH concerned balsamic vinegar from the region of Modena – "Aceto Balsamico di Modena" (PGI application here). The product is an aged, flavoured vinegar made from grapes. The name does contain the word 'balsam', which has colloquially become to mean the same product, but historically it was used to denote a balm or a product with healing properties. Balema produce a German 'balsamic vinegar' called "Balsamico" made from Baden wine. Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena, a consortium of producers of Modena balsamic vinegar, took Balema to court for the infringement of their PGI. Balema challenged this, with the CJEU left to decide whether the individual word components of the PGI could be protected as PGIs within the registration, or would be free to be used by others in isolation from the whole PGI as they were generic terms..

The AG started off with defining what amounted to a 'generic term'. Under Article Article 3(6) of Regulation No 1151/2012, a generic term is defined as "…the names of products which, although relating to the place, region or country where the product was originally produced or marketed, have become the common name of a product in the Union". This means that the PGI has become generic and no longer denotes the quality and characteristics that one would expect from that PGI. This also includes words that have always been generic, even if included within the PGI.

Ptahhotep was no fool when it came to new types of balms
(Source: AHRECS)
The AG added that, in order to determine whether a term has become generic, what is decisive is "…not necessarily whether a term has a particular meaning in a given language but rather whether it lacks a current geographical connotation". The same applies to terms that could be considered as being generic (i.e. mean something specific in one language), but do still retain their geographical connotation, therefore potentially avoiding becoming generic. Adding onto this, even if in one Member State the term is considered to be generic, it does not mean the term has become generic for the whole of the EU.

The specific test courts would have to apply is whether "…the manner in which these words would be perceived by the ‘average consumer who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect", i.e. does the average person consider the term generic or not.

The AG then moved onto considering the interpretation of Article 1 of Regulation No 583/2009 which denotes the registration of the specific PGI. The Regulation didn't provide any limitations or qualifications for the registration of the term 'Aceto Balsamico di Modena', or whether its components themselves would be generic or non-geographical terms separately from the PGI. The AG does point out that previous decisions have indicated that this does not mean that the terms would be protected individually as well as within the whole PGI.

In the light of the Regulation, the AG considered that the terms ‘Aceto’, ‘Aceto Balsamico’ and ‘Balsamico’ were generic terms, and protection was only afforded to the whole PGI. This was due to the common nature of the words, and the particular emphasis made by the Regulation on the entirety of the term.

The opinion is very interesting, albeit unsurprising, as the monopolization of 'common' words (even if used less these days) would be detrimental to the wider internal market. The protection of region specific goods is important, but this also needs to be balanced with the allowance for the use of words that describe goods, rather than their specific geographical origin. It remains to be seen if the CJEU agree with the AG, but this writer for one thinks they'll agree.

27 August, 2019

Ten Hut! - CJEU Decides on Derogation from Authors' Rights and Copyright Infringement in Relation to Military Reports

This blog discussed the issues of balancing the freedom of expression in the early part of this year (with more on news reporting at the CJEU here), and the issue has still lingered in the backlog of cases faced by the CJEU. The balance between protecting works, while affording the ability to review and use those works for specific , is a difficult one to strike, but one that the courts often have to face. Following an Advocate General's opinion in January this year, the CJEU were now tasked with clarifying this issue, and handed down their decision not too long ago.

As a very brief primer, the case of Funke Medien NRW GmbH v Bundesrepublik Deutschland concerned the publication of confidential military reports by Funken online by the daily newspaper Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung (having obtained them through unknown means). The reports detailed the deployment of the German military abroad, and various developments at the locations. Due to the sensitive nature of the reports, the Republic of Germany took Funken to court for copyright infringement, with the matter ultimately ending up with the CJEU.

The referring court asked the CJEU three questions, the first of which asked "…whether Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 first, and Article 5(3)(c), second case, and (d) of [the] Directive… second, must be interpreted as constituting measures of full harmonisation".

The Court considered the matter very extensively in its judgment, concluding that only Articles 2 and 3 of the Directive constituted measures of full harmonization. Without getting too much into the depths of this question, the matter revolved around the differences in the provisions in terms of wording, where Articles 2 and 3 were unequivocal in their remit, while Article 5 left some room for Member State specific implementation.

In short, the Court answered the question as "…Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as constituting measures of full harmonisation of the scope of the exceptions or limitations which they contain. Article 5(3)(c), second case, and (d) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as not constituting measures of full harmonisation of the scope of the relevant exceptions or limitations".

The Court then jumped to the third question, which asked "…whether freedom of information and freedom of the press, enshrined in Article 11 of the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the European Union], are capable of justifying, beyond the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29, a derogation from the author’s exclusive rights of reproduction and of communication to the public, referred to, respectively, in Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of that directive".

To kick things off, the Court noted that the exceptions in Article 5 are exhaustive, but those will need to be balanced with the interests of the rightsholder as well. The balancing is required through the transposition of the exceptions into national law. The Court did mention that "…the exceptions and limitations provided for in Article 5(3)(c)… (d)… are specifically aimed at favouring the exercise of the right to freedom of expression by the users of protected subject matter and to freedom of the press… over the interest of the author in being able to prevent the use of his or her work, whilst ensuring that the author has the right, in principle, to have his or her name indicated". The use by users, however, cannot interfere with the author's normal use of the work.

Following this the Court determined that "…freedom of information and freedom of the press, enshrined in Article 11 of the Charter, are not capable of justifying, beyond the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29, a derogation from the author’s exclusive rights of reproduction and of communication to the public, referred to in Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of that directive respectively".

The Court moved onto the second question, which asked "…whether, in striking the balance which it is incumbent on a national court to undertake between the exclusive rights of the author referred to in Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29 on the one hand, and, on the other, the rights of the users of protected subject matter referred to in Article 5(3)(c), second case, and (d) of that directive, the latter derogating from the former, a national court may depart from a restrictive interpretation of the latter provisions in favour of an interpretation which takes full account of the need to respect freedom of expression and freedom of information, enshrined in Article 11 of the Charter". To put into other terms, can national courts go with a less restrictive interpretation of the rights given to users over protected works, particularly in the light of Funken not adding a summary of the document to the article (but merely linked to it).

When Member States transpose EU legislation into national legislation, this has to be done without conflict with the EU laws themselves, including through the interpretation used to devise national legislation. This means that any derogation from the provisions would have to be interpreted strictly. With regards to Article 5, the exceptions and limitations in it have to be protected in terms of their efficacy.

The Court continued that the Charter does expressly protect intellectual property rights, but those rights are by no means superior to everything, and can be broken given the appropriate exception. This means that both the rights held by the rightsholders, and the ability for users to use the materials for legitimate, fair purposes, have to be appropriately balanced.

The Court saw that Funken's use could fall under the exception of news reporting, due to the structure it was presented in, the notes added in and the further links given within the article. The specifics of which would have to be determined by the referring court in the end.

The answer to the second question therefore is "…that, in striking the balance which is incumbent on a national court between the exclusive rights of the author… on the one hand… the rights of the users of protected subject matter… the latter of which derogate from the former, a national court must, having regard to all the circumstances of the case before it, rely on an interpretation of those provisions which, whilst consistent with their wording and safeguarding their effectiveness, fully adheres to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter".

The case follows the other news reporting related cases that have come before it through the CJEU in recent times, and doesn't provide many surprises. News reporting would have to adhere to the Court's guidance on the matter, but it seems that similar use to that of Funken's would be covered by the exception under Article 5, to the potential chagrin of many authors that might not want this.

22 August, 2019

That's News to Me - CJEU Decides on Whether Copying for the Purpose of Reporting of Current Events Infringes Copyright

News reporting is an important part of society and one of the best ways to keep a population informed and up-to-date on current events. Many consider the preservation of news reporting, particularly an unfettered reporting, incredibly important. Quoting and copying of materials for the news isn't always as straightforward as that, with many instances amounting to copyright infringement. With that in mind, what are the limits to copying for the purposes of reporting current events? Luckily the CJEU took this question on and handed down its judgment only a few weeks ago.

The case of Spiegel Online GmbH v Volker Beck concerned a manuscript written by a German politician, Volker Beck. The manuscript, which dealt with criminal policy relating to sexual offences committed against minors, was originally published in 1988 under a pseudonym. At the time the manuscript's title, along with very small parts of its contents, were changed by the publisher, to Mr Volker's dismay. The manuscript was discovered 25 years later, which was put to Mr Volker during his then campaign for the German parliament. During this period Mr Volker provided some newspaper editors with the full manuscript to show it had been edited (but didn't give consent to the editors for publication), and published it on his website distancing himself from it. Spiegel Online, however, published an article contesting Mr Volker's stance, including links to the full manuscript with the article. Mr Volker subsequently sued the paper for copyright infringement, with the matter ending up with the CJEU sometime after.

The referring court asked the CJEU six questions, the first of which asking "…whether Article 5(3)(c), second case, and (d) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as constituting measures of full harmonisation".

The CJEU dealt with the background of the question quite extensively, but decided that the Article does not constituting measures of full harmonization. As the transposition of legislation into national law is dealt with on a case-by-case basis, the Court saw that there was a high degree of discretion allowed for Member States, and therefore the provision isn't looking to harmonize EU law in a strict fashion across the board.

The Court then moved onto the third question, which asked "…whether freedom of information and freedom of the press, enshrined in Article 11 of the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the European Union], are capable of justifying, beyond the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29, a derogation from the author’s exclusive rights of reproduction and of communication to the public". In other words, would the freedom of information go beyond the express exceptions already provided for in the legislation.

At the outset the Court noted that the exceptions contained in Article 5 are exhaustive, and seek to strike a balance on interests between protecting works, while allowing for users to access information where and when needed (especially regarding the freedom of expression and information). They continued that Article 5 is specifically aims at favoring the exercise of the right to freedom of expression by the users of protected subject matter and to freedom of the press over the interest of the author in being able to prevent the use of his or her work. Even so, allowing for an exception beyond the above remits would potentially endanger the effectiveness of the harmonization of copyright in the EU and legal certainty on its factual remit.

The CJEU then determined that "…freedom of information and freedom of the press, enshrined in… the Charter, are not capable of justifying, beyond the exceptions or limitations provided for in Article 5(2) and (3) of Directive 2001/29, a derogation from the author’s exclusive rights of reproduction and of communication to the public".

Having dealt with the third question, the Court turned to the second question, which asked "…whether, in striking the balance… between the exclusive rights of the author referred to in Article 2(a) and Article 3(1) of Directive 2001/29… and… the rights of the users of protected subject matter referred to in Article 5(3)(c)… and (d)… a national court may depart from a restrictive interpretation of the latter provisions in favour of an interpretation which takes full account of the need to respect freedom of expression and freedom of information".

According to the Court, the exceptions provided for in Article 5 confer specific rights to users of protected works, which should be given a broad interpretation, and the effectiveness of the provision needs to be safeguarded. Even though the Charter does expressly protect intellectual property, the rights given to rightsholders are not absolute. When striking a balance between the rights given to citizens by the Charter, courts have to consider the context in which that use occurs in the light of copyright protection. The Court considered that, in answering the question "…a national court must, having regard to all the circumstances of the case before it, rely on an interpretation of those provisions which, whilst consistent with their wording and safeguarding their effectiveness, fully adheres to the fundamental rights enshrined in the Charter".

The Court followed this with the fourth question, which asked "…whether Article 5(3)(c), second case, of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as precluding a national rule restricting the application of the exception or limitation provided for in that provision in cases where it is not reasonably possible to make a prior request for authorisation with a view to the use of a protected work for the purposes of reporting current events".

In answering the question, the Court noted that the exceptions in Article 5 don't require any authorization from the rightsholder prior to the use of a protected work. In considering the meaning of 'in connection with the reporting of current events', the Court saw that it meant "…the action of ‘reporting’… must be understood as that of providing information on a current event", but does not require the analysis of an event in detail. The reporting must also relate to 'current events', which is "…an event that, at the time at which it is reported, is of informatory interest to the public". The author of the protected work would also have to be attributed in the news reports.

The Court determined that national rules restricting the application of the exceptions would be precluded by EU law.

That was followed by the fifth question, which asked "…whether Article 5(3)(d) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as meaning that the concept of ‘quotations’… covers a reference made by means of a hyperlink to a file which can be downloaded independently".

The Court commenced by looking at the meaning of 'quotation' under the provision, which is considered to be "…the use, by a user other than the copyright holder, of a work or, more generally, of an extract from a work for the purposes of illustrating an assertion, of defending an opinion or of allowing an intellectual comparison between that work and the assertions of that user". A direct and close link needs to be established between the quoted work and the author's own reflections. As such the quotation doesn't need to be inextricably integrated, by way of insertions or reproductions in footnotes for example, into the subject matter citing it, which allows for a hyperlink to be a quotation for the purposes of the provision.

The Court therefore answered the question as "…the concept of ‘quotations’, referred to in that provision, covers a reference made by means of a hyperlink to a file which can be downloaded independently".

Finally, the Court turned to the sixth and final question, which asked "…whether Article 5(3)(d) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as meaning that a work has already been lawfully made available to the public where that work, in its specific form, was published previously with the author’s consent".

The Court noted that the exception for quotation only applies to works that already been lawfully made available to the public. If a work has been made lawfully available, it has been made available with the author's authorization, allowing for quotation. Mr Beck had clearly done so by publishing the manuscript on his website, even if he disassociated himself from the work (with the statement needing to be included with any quotation).

The Court therefore set out that "…Article 5(3)(d) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as meaning that a work has already been lawfully made available to the public where that work, in its specific form, was previously made available to the public with the rightholder’s authorisation or in accordance with a non-contractual licence or statutory authorisation".

The case is yet another important update to the world of quotation, and how copyright protected works can be used in news reporting. The limits of what would amount to quotation can be tricky, and therefore a serious of cases from the CJEU dealing with the subject matter is a very welcome addition. Many news outlets will welcome this change, but will have to make sure to abide by it so as to not infringe copyright in any works.

13 August, 2019

Just a Little Taste - The CJEU Decides on Whether Music Sampling Infringes Copyright

Having discussed the recent opinion by Advocate General Szpunar in relation to copyright and sampling, the CJEU's decision has been very hotly anticipated, particularly by the music industry. Sampling has become incredibly common in the creation and production of music, and so the potential curtailing of sampling by the CJEU could pose a big problem to artists, producers and labels. Luckily (or unluckily) the CJEU has finally handed down its judgment very recently.

As a short primer, the case of Pelham GmbH v Ralf Hütter and Florian Schneider‑Esleben concerned the song "Metall auf Metall" created by the band Kraftwerk, which comprises of the respondents Hütter and Schneider‑Esleben. The song was sampled in another song called "Nur Mir", which was produced by Pelham in the late 1990s. Kraftwerk allege that Pelham sampled a two-second rhythm sequence from their song, and used it as a continuous loop in "Nur Mir", therefore infringing their copyright. Pelham contested the infringement allegation, and the case then ended up in the CJEU some years later.

The referring court asked the CJEU six questions, which the Court dealt with (mainly) in turn.

The first and sixth questions were dealt with by the CJEU together, which essentially asked "...whether Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29 must, in the light of the Charter [of Fundamental Rights of the European Union], be interpreted as meaning that the exclusive right granted to a phonogram producer to reproduce and distribute his or her phonogram allows him to prevent another person from taking a sound sample, even if very short, of his or her phonogram for the purposes of including that sample in another phonogram".

The Court opened with setting the scene, in that the copying of a sound sample, even if very short, must be regarded as a reproduction ‘in part’ of that phonogram within the meaning of the Article. Even so, if a user is exercising their freedom of the arts to create a new, distinguishable phonogram work, that particular use wouldn't be classed as a 'reproduction' under the Article. The Court noted that a balance has to be struck between the rights afforded by copyright, and the rights under the Charter.

Having considered the questions, the Court determined that "…Article 2(c)… must, in the light of the Charter, be interpreted as meaning that the phonogram producer’s exclusive right under that provision to reproduce and distribute his or her phonogram allows him or her to prevent another person from taking a sound sample, even if very short, of his or her phonogram for the purposes of including that sample in another phonogram, unless that sample is included in the phonogram in a modified form unrecognisable to the ear". In short, an artist would have to utilize a short clip of music in more ways than simply copying it in and the work has to be unrecognizable when compared to the original.

The Court then moved onto the second question, which asked "…whether Article 9(1)(b) of Directive 2006/115 must be interpreted as meaning that a phonogram which contains sound samples transferred from another phonogram constitutes a ‘copy’, within the meaning of that provision, of that phonogram". The Article affords the owner of the rights in a phonogram the right to distribute copies of the work.

Having discussed the legislative backdrop of the provision quite extensively, the Court considered that samples transferred from another phonogram would be a 'copy' under the provision, as they are a 'duplicate' of the part of the work, since the samples contain sounds taken directly or indirectly from a phonogram.

The Court then considered the third question, which asked "…whether a Member State may, in its national law, lay down an exception or limitation, other than those provided for in Article 5 of Directive 2001/29, to the phonogram producer’s right provided for in Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29" – or in other words, can additional exceptions be provided to the rights afforded to rightsholders in relation to phonograms.

The matter yet again circled around the balancing of interests in terms of the rights in works, and exceptions to those rights allowing for the use of works in specific circumstances (so long as it doesn't conflict with the normal exploitation of a work). The Court answered the question in the negative, considering that Member States cannot lay down additional exceptions outside of Article 5.

The fourth question concerned "…whether Article 5(3)(d) of [Directive 2001/29] must be interpreted as meaning that the concept of ‘quotations'… extends to a situation in which it is not possible to identify the work concerned by the quotation in question".

The Court first focussed on the requirements for quotation, which has to be made "in accordance with fair practice, and to the extent required by the specific purpose", meaning you can't simply copy a work and claim it as a quotation of that work if it exceeds the requirements and purpose of a given quotation. Also, the Court noted that the meaning of 'quotation' is the use of a copyright protected work to "….illustrat[e] an assertion, of defending an opinion or of allowing an intellectual comparison between that work and the assertions of that user", which is typically done through a 'dialogue' with that work.

A key consideration on quotation is that the work needs to be identifiable, which, in sampling, might not be as easy. Without the identification of the sample, it isn't strictly possible to have a 'dialogue' with the work as a part of the quotation. The Court therefore set out that "…the concept of ‘quotations’… does not extend to a situation in which it is not possible to identify the work concerned by the quotation in question". It is a case-by-case question, in terms of sampling, when the copying can be considered as a quotation within the provision.

Finally, the Court dealt with the fifth question, which concerned "…whether Article 2(c) of Directive 2001/29 must be interpreted as constituting measures of full harmonisation".

The Court emphasised that EU law takes precedent over national law, even if it concerns a Member State's constitution, and any national measures shouldn't undermine the effectiveness of the EU in its territory. That also means that EU legislation would have to be transposed into national legislation irrespective of their discretion. The Court therefore concluded that "…Article 2(c)… must be interpreted as constituting a measure of full harmonisation of the corresponding substantive law".

The decision is a big one, and potentially is a big blow to the music industry, but has shown more clarity in the area of quotation. The courts will undoubtedly grapple with this decision in the coming years, particularly due to the nature of whether a sample can be recognized within a different song where it is copied. This writer agrees with the Court, but will wait to see whether, or if at all, the decision will have an impact on the music industry.

23 July, 2019

I'm Offended! - Advocate General Bobeck Opines on When a TM is Contrary to Morality or Public Policy

Morality seems to be the topic of the day on this blog, having recently written about the US Supreme Court case relating to the registration of immoral trademarks. While this writer will is not by any means the 'morality police', it is an important topic to discuss, albeit unusually so in connection with intellectual property. Similarly to US legislation, many other jurisdictions prevent the registration of trademarks that contravenes morality, including in Europe. In the light of this, what makes a trademark contrary to morality, and when can the courts reject those marks? Luckily the CJEU is facing this very question, and Advocate General Bobeck gave his take on the matter very recently.

The case of Constantin Film Produktion GmbH v EUIPO concerned the registration of the name "Fack Ju Göhte" (EUTM 13971163) by the film company, which is a very successful German comedy. The company, naturally, wanted to register the mark due to this success, but the application was rejected by the EUIPO due to it being contrary to "accepted principles of morality". Constantin then appealed the rejection, which ended up going all the way to the CJEU.

A trademark application can be rejected under Article 7(1)(f) of the CTM Regulation if it is "...contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality". The Advocate General therefore had to opine on when a trade mark application is contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality, and what the relevant test is in determining that.

The first thing considered by the AG was the relationship between trademarks and the freedom of expression. The AG set out that, even though the registration of trademarks is a commercial activity by nature, it by no means limits the applicability of the freedom of expression to trademarks, and is further codified by the Regulation as a part of trademark law. He further set out that "…although freedom of expression, as well as other fundamental rights potentially at stake, must be taken into account in the overall balancing exercise, the protection of freedom of expression is not the primary goal of trade mark protection". One can agree with this, since trademarks, while clearly an important expression of a particular brand, are primarily focused on showcasing the quality of a product and ensuring its origin to the consumer; not to make statements for the sake of it.

The AG then moved onto consider the relationship between public policy and accepted principles of morality. In practice, the terms have been considered both interchangeably and separately, which leaves the option open for the CJEU to determine how exactly they should be considered.

In defining public policy, the AG set out that it means "…a normative vision of values and goals, defined by the relevant public authority, to be pursued now and in the future", i.e. the legislature's attempt to solidify the normative values of society at that time. Accepted principles of morality, however, are "…values and convictions currently adhered to by a given society, set and enforced by the prevailing social consensus within that society at a given time", which contrasts as a less guided sense of what is right, but how society at large feels about issues. The distinction therefore is a top-down v bottom-up approach to public morality, with the former being a more objective measure, and the latter a subjective one.

When relying on either one of the above grounds, the AG considered that the EUIPO must therefore establish, with references to the prevailing perception among the relevant public, why they believe that a given sign would offend those principles.

The AG considered that the public relevant to the matter at hand would be a general and German-speaking one, and that any public policy or morality considerations would have to be made in the light of that fact. Vulgarity in one language, here English, would not therefore necessarily be considered such by non-English speakers. Additionally, any assessment by the EUIPO cannot be made solely and exclusively looking at the word sign, in isolation from the broader societal perception and context, if any evidence for such exists.

In this matter the name "Fack Ju Göhte" was fully authorized to screen with the name by the German authorities with no age restrictions. They clearly therefore considered the name to not be vulgar; contrary to the findings of the EUIPO. This national context is important, which should be taken into account by the EUIPO. If the EUIPO wants to depart from this the standard of proof is raised, and in this case they failed to prove otherwise. The first ground of appeal consequently failed according to the AG.

The AG also criticized the EUIPO for a lack of consistency in its decision-making, and for failing to explain why this application's outcome was different to previous decisions (including in Die Wanderhure).

The opinion is very thorough and convincing, and it is very likely that the CJEU will follow the AG's well-reasoned view on the matter. Any rejections by the EUIPO over a contravention of morality should be consistent in their approach, and the CJEU's clarification will hopefully bring them to this outcome. This writer will wait for the CJEU's ultimate decision patiently.

16 July, 2019

That's Just Offensive - US Supreme Court Allows for the Registration of 'Immoral' Trademarks

The notion of morality is deeply embedded in human society, coloring most facets of it in some ways. Whether it is laws prohibiting deplorable actions, or simply stopping you from saying hateful things (in some jurisdictions), morality is an important part of the legislative framework. In the world of IP you rarely deal with issues of morality, but sometimes they do crop up. In the last few years, the registration of 'disparaging' trademarks has been a hot topic in the US (discussed more here and here), but what about marks that one could class as immoral? The Supreme Court were therefore tasked with deciding this part of trademark law, and handed down their judgment very recently.

The case of Iancu v Brunetti concerned an application to register the mark "FUCT", which was the brand of Mr Brunetti's clothing line. Under examination by the USPTO, the application was rejected due to it being immoral due to vulgarity under 15 USC 1052(a). Mr Brunetti subsequently appealed the decision, arguing that it infringes on his First Amendment right to free speech, with the case ultimately landing on the Supreme Court's desk.

As decided in the Tam case, preventing the registration of 'disparaging' trademarks violated the First Amendment as it "...discriminate[d] against ideas that offend". The grounds for rejecting trademarks that are 'immoral' falls within the same provision of US legislation as rejecting the registration of 'disparaging' ones.

Justice Kagan, handing down the majority's judgment, swiftly determined that the provision similarly violates the First Amendment. The Government argued that the prohibition was a viewpoint-neutral one, and would only be restricted to certain kinds of immorality, therefore being somewhat restricted. The Court didn't buy this argument, and saw that "...It covers the universe of immoral or scandalous—or (to use some PTO synonyms) offensive or disreputable—material". This means that almost anything that fits that criteria could therefore be rejected by the USPTO.

The Court honed matters down further, noting that the provision aims to suppress certain views, albeit 'immoral' ones, and would violate free speech., even if allegedly captured through the use of "viewpoint-neutral" legislative language.

Justice Kagan wrapped matters up by drawing a line in the sand: "There are a great many immoral and scandalous ideas in the world (even more than there are swearwords), and the Lanham Act covers them all. It therefore violates the First Amendment".

While most Supreme Court decisions are incredibly important, the decision in this case is in no way revolutionary. The Court has clearly put an end to the limitation on registering negative trademarks, no matter how offensive or immoral. Applicants can therefore rejoice over the possibility to go ham on registering ever-more offensive marks to their hearts' content...

09 July, 2019

Walking the Dotted Line - CJEU Decides on what Dotted Lines mean in Trademark Applications

The Devil is often in the details, especially when applying to register trademarks and/or patents. Sometimes the smallest of 'mistakes' or strategic choices could lead to the revocation or devaluation of your IP, so it is important to be sure you have set out the exact parameters in the best way possible to avoid potential issues. One such matter is how trademarks are presented in graphical form, including dotted lines (the Trunki case being a good example of when the illustration of a mark really mattered). With this in mind, how does the inclusion of dotted lines in trademark applications impact the mark, and can they be excluded as being simply illustrative?

The case of Deichmann SE v EUIPO concerned the registration of a trademark involving a cross design on the side of a shoe, where the shoe itself was marked using dotted lines to illustrate the position of the mark (EUTM 2923852). Infringement proceedings involving the mark were initiated by Deichmann 6 years after the registration of the mark, and the other party, Munich SL, counterclaimed for revocation and invalidity. The matter then ultimately ended with the CJEU for determination.

The crux of the matter is whether the mark can be revoked under Article 51 of the EU Trade Mark Regulation for a lack of genuine use in the EU. What the Court also had to consider was whether the mark was a figurative or a position mark, and whether that was an irrelevant fact for the determination of genuine use.

Does it really count if I signed on a dotted line?
The Court considered that "…it [is] irrelevant whether the mark at issue should be regarded as a position mark or a figurative mark". The General Court had previously determined that the mark was a figurative mark at the same time as being a position mark – which the Court agreed with. They further noted that "…‘position marks’ are similar to the categories of figurative and three-dimensional marks as they related to the application of three-dimensional elements to the surface of a product", and the distinction between a figurative and a position mark in the light of distinctiveness is irrelevant.

Similarly it was irrelevant to the assessment of genuine use. The Court emphasised that the acquisition of genuine use is analogous to that of distinctiveness, therefore rendering the distinction between a figurative and a position mark unnecessary for genuine use.

The Court then looked at the mark itself, which they saw consisted of "…broken or ‘dotted’ lines, which represent the appearance of the product covered by that mark, and two solid lines, representing an affixed cross". The dotted line therefore clearly denotes the location of the mark itself, rather than forming a part of the mark, i.e. making it a position mark.

The mark had been registered as a figurative mark, and even though the above sets it out as a position mark, this ultimately does not matter in the light of the mark's registration.

The case is by no means revolutionary, but does draw a line in the law in the light of dotted lines. Most of the time common sense prevails, and applicants can let out a sigh of relief in their world of dotted outlines.