29 May, 2015

Supreme Goodwill - UK Supreme Court Addresses Jurisdictional Goodwill

In today's business world reputation is everything when selling your goods or services to the masses at large. Goodwill, the inherent reputation of your goods or services, can easily overreach beyond the mere confides of countries, continents, or even the solar system. With this in mind, how far a business' goodwill can, and does, reach is hugely important, especially when it comes to someone passing off their goods or services as a famous brands' equivalents. What makes things even more complex is the nature of the online world we are all a part of, which has a wholly borderless reach (excluding geo-blocking), and in which anyone can pass themselves off as someone or something else without much difficulty. This begs the question: how far does your goodwill extend, even if you have no or very little presence in a given territory, due to your goodwill online? The Supreme Court of the United Kingdom endeavored to answer this question only a little over a month ago.

The case in question was Starbucks (HK) Limited and another v British Sky Broadcasting Group PLC and others, which concerned the use of IPTV, or in more simplistic terms, the streaming of TV via the Internet using dedicated hardware to do so, very much like cable TV but in an online environment. Starbucks (HK) and PCCW Media Ltd, two corporate members of a larger group (referred to as "PCCM" in the judgment as a whole), which operated an IPTV service called "NOW BROADBAND TV", subsequently renamed to "NOW TV", in Hong Kong, being the largest entity in its respective IPTV business in the country. Most of the channels offered through the NOW TV service are in Chinese, and are not accessible in the United Kingdom, although some people in the UK had been identified as being aware of the service. PCCM had since considered expanding internationally, and did so by launching a mobile app called NOW aimed at the Chinese-speaking population in the UK. Prior to the launching of the app in the same year Sky announced its "NOW TV" on-demand service, which went into its beta phase roughly at the same time as the launching of PCCM's mobile app. PCCM subsequently sued Sky under the tort of passing off (more on which can be found here), with the case ending up all the way in the Supreme Court.

Passing off, as has been noted in the article above, hinges on three factors that need to be established in order to prove the tort of passing off: (i) goodwill or reputation in the goods or services provided in the minds of the purchasing public; (ii) a misrepresentation by the defendant to the public that leads or is likely to lead, the public to think the goods or services are provided by the plaintiff; and (iii) the plaintiff suffers, or is likely to suffer, damage as a result of this misrepresentation. PCCM established the latter two requirements at first instances, and therefore the Supreme Court had to decide on whether Sky's service fulfilled the first requirement, amounting to passing off.

The main question therefore to the Supreme Court was whether PCCM had goodwill in the jurisdiction in question, in other words a customer base, meaning the UK. As the court stated, reiterating Lord Justice Oliver in Anheuser-Buch v Budejovicky Budvar NP, that goodwill is very much "localized" and that "...reputation which may, no doubt, and frequently does, exist without any supporting local business… does not by itself constitute a property which the law protects". In other words, even if goods or services have a certain, even strong reputation to them, does not mean it inherently commands it everywhere, irrespective of actual use or not. This line of thinking very much confirms precedent from decades prior, where similar conclusions have been made as to the localized nature of goodwill.

Territorial issues can be dealt with amicably at times
After a presentation as to the law from both sides the Court finally discussed its decision on whether passing off, or goodwill, has a territorial nature to it. As Lord Neuberger remarked: "...I consider that we should reaffirm that the law is that a claimant in a passing off claim must establish that it has actual goodwill in this jurisdiction, and that such goodwill involves the presence of clients or customers in the jurisdiction for the products or services in question. And, where the claimant's business is abroad, people who are in the jurisdiction, but who are not customers of the claimant in the jurisdiction, will not do, even if they are customers of the claimant when they go abroad". To put Lord Neuberger's argument in different words, goodwill can only exist in a jurisdiction if its goods or services are used by actual customers in that jurisdiction, irrespective of foreign users who have emigrated or visit that jurisdiction (although, one would imagine, given a sufficient amount of immigrants this would be acceptable). As said, this is fully in line with older precedent, and also foreign authorities within the common law, as was put forth by Sky in its argument. PCCM had very little presence in the UK, although it did establish some user base did exist.

Finally, Lord Neuberger aimed to settle two questions that remained: "(i) clarification as to what constitutes sufficient business to give rise to goodwill as a matter of principle, and (ii) resolution of the judicial disagreement as to the jurisdictional division of goodwill".

In answering the first question Lord Neuberger quickly settled the matter by largely stating what has already been settled above: "The claimant must show that it has a significant goodwill, in the form of customers, in the jurisdiction, but it is not necessary that the claimant actually has an establishment or office in this country. In order to establish goodwill, the claimant must have customers within the jurisdiction, as opposed to people in the jurisdiction who happen to be customers elsewhere. Thus, where the claimant's business is carried on abroad, it is not enough for a claimant to show that there are people in this jurisdiction who happen to be its customers when they are abroad. However, it could be enough if the claimant could show that there were people in this jurisdiction who, by booking with, or purchasing from, an entity in this country, obtained the right to receive the claimant's service abroad.". Lord Neuberger's answer to the first question further establishes that a business has to have some form of customer base in a jurisdiction it wishes to protect its intellectual property in that jurisdiction, and that business would have to be, mostly at least, permanent in that jurisdiction, rather than just transient.

The answer to the second question leads to a much wider discussion than can be settled in this blog post, and merits reading in its own rights by those who might be interested. What needs to be said, however, is that Lord Diplock's comments in Star Industrial Co Ltd v Yap Kwee Kor further support Lord Neuberger's conclusions and highlight the distinction between goodwill in different jurisdictions through the existence of separation of judiciaries; i.e. not one court can decide an issue of a foreign court.  Allowing for territorial overlap would let businesses simply claim a right in a name in another jurisdiction with a minimal presence, thus restricting business and trade for legitimate entities in that jurisdiction.

Ultimately the Supreme Court dismissed PCCM's appeal, and concluded that their claim in "NOW TV" had no basis in the UK, as they did not have the requisite consuming public in the UK for their service to merit protection under passing off.

This case is an interesting one, and although one could say the decision is very much a common sense approach, it still does answer some question relating to goodwill, especially in a digital age where the Internet permeates nearly every part of the globe. Businesses have to have a legitimate business presence in a given country in the form of a customer base, even in this digital age.

Source: KWM Legal Insights

21 May, 2015

The EU Single Digital Market - 16 Initiatives to Success?

As diligent readers of this blog have probably noted, the last 12 months have been vary favorable to those who are inclined to law reforms, especially in the field of copyright. This writer, for one, enjoys the rapid changes being introduced, and has awaited the next step of the reform process, which was leaked not long ago; the European Union Single Digital Market strategy. The strategy encompasses much more than just IP within it in attempts to combat the issues plaguing the internal digital market, and this post shall endeavor to touch upon the most relevant parts, divided by the "pillars" they're under.

Pillar I - Better Access For Consumers and Businesses to Online Goods and Services Across Europe

Along with the introduction of changes to e-commerce regulation, delivery systems and VAT within the European Digital Economy, the strategy also proposes some key changes into the landscape in which copyright resides.

Geo-blocking has, and will be, a contentious issue, especially in this global world where not all consumers are created equal in their access to media. The strategy states that: "[b]y limiting consumer opportunities and choice, geo-blocking is a significant cause of consumer dissatisfaction and of fragmentation of the Internal Market", and while arguably true to a certain extent, the statement does not reflect the commercial nature of geo-blocking. Often it is used to ensure either the locking in of content to regions, or to secure proper negotiations for wider, more lucrative licensing agreements (whether you agree with this notion or not is an entirely different matter). The strategy discusses 'unjustified' geo-blocking, but as to what amounts to an unjustified use remains unclear. Nevertheless the strategy proposes that "[a]ction could include targeted change to the e-Commerce framework and the framework set out by Article 20 of the Services Directive". Arguably a relaxing of geo-blocking within the EU would harmonize the market, especially with the emergence of prominent internet based media services; however, it still leaves the abuse of cheaper pricing (or conversely, the pricing out of poorer regions) in the market in the light of this potential change.

The first pillar also includes a proposal to allow for a more fluid, easier access to content within the EU in terms of its legislative base. The strategy notes that "[b]arriers to cross-border access to copyright-protected content services and their portability are still common, particularly for audiovisual programmes. As regards portability, when consumers cross an internal EU border they are often prevented, on grounds of copyright, from using the content services (e.g. video services) which they have acquired in their home country". This can be argued to relate to the point above quite heavily, with copyright ensuring the effective enforcement of geo-blocking, or any curtailment thereof. Some issues to persist, such as the inaccessibility to content for which you have rightfully paid for outside of some jurisdictions, as has been noted in the strategy as well, but these issues, at least in this writer's anecdotal experience, don't seem to be too prevalent.

The strategy also discusses a lack of clarity within copyright in the EU, but does not state as to what is unclear and how it is proposed to be remedied. Ending the first pillar, it is suggested that "...the Commission will propose solutions which maximise the offers available to users and open up new opportunities for content creators, while preserving the financing of EU media and innovative content". While this is all well and good, no actual legislative measures are proposed, and the aim of the strategy in relation to copyright seems foggy at best.

The first pillar clearly envisions a freer, more affordable digital market within the EU, but omits the actual regulatory structures, or changes thereto, leaving the strategy with more questions than have been answered.

Pillar II - Creating the Right Conditions for Digital Networks and Services to Flourish

The second pillar builds on the first, with the proposal of a more robust, free and functional network, with basic rights and the assurance of content enforcement, especially in relation to third party operators such as ISPs. After discussions on the introduction of wider rules for telecoms, and the potential expansion of the Audiovisual Media Services Directive, the strategy moved onto discussions on improving the online environment.

Some pillars hold more than others
The strategy brings up the restriction of certain players in the online world, such as search engines (Google, anyone?) and media services. Issues raised "...include a lack of transparency as to how they use the information they acquire, their strong bargaining power compared to that of their clients, which may be reflected in their terms and conditions (particularly for SMEs), promotion of their own services to the disadvantage of competitors, and non-transparent pricing policies, or restrictions on pricing and sale conditions". In this regard one has to agree to a certain extent, as e-commerce and other online giants become even bigger, their monopolies become harder to detect, and has the ability to curtail competition. How and when these issues would be tackled was also left out of the strategy, allowing for nothing but mere speculation at this point.

Illegal content online has been, and will be, a contentious issue, and the strategy does not leave it out either. Discrepancies with online enforcement of the removal of infringing content, and the blocking of such sources, can be said to be a thorn on the EU's side, and as the strategy points out: "[d]ifferences in national practices can impede enforcement (with a detrimental effect on the fight against online crime) and undermine confidence in the online world". For the first time the strategy does bring up concrete steps as to how to deal with the issue of infringing content online: "In tandem with its assessment of online platforms, the Commission will analyse the need for new measures to tackle illegal content on the Internet, with due regard to their impact on the fundamental right to freedom of expression and information, such as rigorous procedures for removing illegal content while avoiding the take down of legal content, and whether to require intermediaries to exercise greater responsibility and due diligence in the way they manage their networks and systems - a duty of care". Again, although more clear in its intent, the measures proposed have been left quite convoluted, a 'duty of care' on ISPs (and other third parties, possibly) could become too onerous, especially with more and more infringing content popping up online daily. With a sufficient allowance for flexibility, yet robustness, a duty of care system, or something akin or related to, could allow for the better enforcement of intellectual property rights online, while still allowing for its dissemination, sharing and other uses that fall within the scope of any exceptions.

All in all the EU digital environment, at least prima facie, would seem to have a bright future, but with a substantially sized caveat included. How intermediaries are treated in this new environment, with the expansion of rules on telecoms, could hinder the sharing and dissemination of content online, as has been seen with the DMCA in the US, if left too broad. This means any legislative initiatives would have to take both interests, being end-users' and commercial interests, into account when moving forward with any new legislative frameworks.

Pillar III - Maximising the Growth Potential of our European Digital Economy

Finally, the third pillar aims to add the last piece to the puzzle built on the two other pillars by creating more standardized platforms and technologies within the EU, and the improvement of digital skills and e-governance in the internal market. While largely irrelevant to a IP-heavy discussion, they still seem to add to the strategy in allowing for a more developed online network where these rules can operate. This article won't delve into the third pillar much, as it mostly does not relate directly to IP, but it is worth a read for anyone interested in the more practical aspects of the digital market.


While this writer can air nothing but his disappointment in the content of the strategy above, he is left to wonder why the proposal lacks so much in substance when the earlier leak seemed to offer more concrete terms of operation and improvement. With so much uncertainty in its future application, the Digital Single Market leaves with a whimper, and it remains to be seen how its final incarnation will impact on the EU and its legal (and practical) framework. The removal of barriers to enjoyment, and the possible harmonization of pricing and/or licensing in the EU seems, at least from a very superficial interpretation, a very welcomed change, how and when this would be done is still a big question as well.

As said, the strategy left much to be desired, but this writer remains hopeful.

08 May, 2015

Retrospective - Geographical Indicators and Trademarks

As many wine connoisseurs can clearly tell you, there is a vast amount of difference in the origin of a wine, be it from Southern France or Northern Italy, the specific region where the product is produced lends itself to create a nuanced flavor profile only achievable from that particular region. While this writer has no knowledge of such differences (he distinguishes his wines based on color), they illustrate a very important aspect of protection for some products and their geographical origins. Be it Feta cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano, or Scotch whisky, where the products come from is often as important, or at times more important, than the quality of the product, giving each item its 'signature' taste and feel. With this specific taste and feel (at least prima facie) comes a need for protection, lest we allow for the production and sale of Parma ham produced all over the world, clearly therefore not being from Parma at all, potentially deceiving the public as to its origins. That said, does the geographical origin of a product confer a protectable right, and if so, how wide-reaching is the right?

A decision seeking to answer this question was faced by the then-named House of Lords in the UK in the early part of the 21st century in Consorzio Del Prosciutto Di Parma v Asda Stores Limited and Others. The case concerned the packaging and sale of Parma ham, specifically by Asda (a large chain of UK supermarkets), which had been sliced and packaged in Wiltshere in the UK by Hygrade Foods Ltd. Although the ham had been produced in Parma and subsequently sent to Hygrade, the act of slicing and packaging the meat had occurred in the UK; something that went against the Italian law (accessible here in Italian) protecting Parma ham and its processing specifically, and the sale thereof. Upon identifying this the Parma Ham Association sued Asda and Hygrade for selling the ham.

The law relied upon by the Association is European in origin, specifically European Council Regulation No. 2081/92. Under the Regulation the European Commission can register a name, upon the satisfaction of criteria set out in Article 4 of the Regulation, as a "protected designation of origin" or a "protected geographical indication", which, as explained by the court, are: "...[a] PDO is the name of a place used to describe a product, originating in that place, with characteristics that are due to its particular environment. A PGI is similar to a PDO except that the causal link between the place of origin and the quality of the product may be a matter of reputation rather than verifiable fact". Parma ham was registered as a PDO in 1996. 

Clucky didn't care if it was from Parma or not
After some deliberation by Lord Justices Hoffamn and Scott, the Lords could not answer the question posed to them as to the direct enforceability of the Regulation within Member States' domestic courts, and therefore referred the question to the European Court of Justice for further deliberation: "As a matter of Community law, does [the Regulation]... read with Commission Regulation (EC) No 1107/96 and the specification for the PDO “Prosciutto di Parma” create a valid Community right, directly enforceable in the court of a Member State, to restrain the retail sale as “Parma ham” of sliced and packaged ham derived from hams duly exported from Parma in compliance with the conditions of the PDO but which have not been thereafter sliced, packaged and labelled in accordance with the specification?"

The decision of the ECJ was given two years later. The ECJ answered the House of Lords' question after long deliberation of the Regulations application to Member States, and whether a PDO can be enforced against economic operators, including its specification as to slicing and packaging:

"[the Regulation]... must be interpreted as not precluding the use of a protected designation of origin from being subject to the condition that operations such as the slicing and packaging of the product take place in the region of production, where such a condition is laid down in the specification. Where the use of the protected designation of origin ‘Prosciutto di Parma’ for ham marketed in slices is made subject to the condition that slicing and packaging operations be carried out in the region of production, this constitutes a measure having equivalent effect to a quantitative restriction on exports within the meaning of Article 29 EC, but may be regarded as justified, and hence compatible with that provision. However, the condition in question cannot be relied on against economic operators, as it was not brought to their attention by adequate publicity in Community legislation."

All in all the Regulation does create an enforceable right through a PDO, but only if the stipulations within it as to specific packaging, slicing or other measures, have to be expressly stated within the registered PDO. Geographical indicators, therefore, act very similarly to trademarks, and do offer an route of enforcement ensuring the quality of the goods themselves within the European Union. Geographical indicators are also protected outside of the EU through a variety of agreements between the EU and other nations, with the addition of agreements between World Trade Organization members. They are by no means an answer to a lack of a trademark, but offer an avenue through which distinct origins (and quality) can be protected, especially when its derived from tradition and strict rules on the above.