25 October, 2016

Used Treasures - CJEU Sets Limits on the Resale of Copyright Works

Resale of goods, particularly those protected by copyright, has been a question that the courts have been tackling for a long time. This is further exasperated by the online environment, where the sale and use of sold products or software is ever-more elusive, with the actual exhaustion of any rights (particularly in the sale of the protected goods) is unclear. For rightsholders, exhaustion of rights can often seem like having your cake and eating it, while those seeking to benefit from it perceive it as more of a possibility to create a second-hand market in the online environment. Not often discussed, cases dealing directly with exhaustion seem to be far and few between; however, the Court of Justice of the EU recently took on a case dealing with a question that is important in the context of software exhaustion.

The case of Aleksandrs Ranks and Jurijs Vasiļevičs v Finanšu un ekonomisko noziegumu izmeklēšanas prokoratūra and Microsoft Corp deals with two Latvian individuals who sold Microsoft software products online during 2001 to 2004. The Court estimated that over 3,000 copies had been sold, with the pair making revenues nearing $300,000 during that time. Mr Ranks and Vasiļevičs were subsequently charged with a number of infringement claims, and having gone through the courts in Latvia, the matter ultimately ended up in the CJEU, particularly dealing with questions surrounding the exhaustion of rights in the aforementioned software products.

The Court, dealing with the two referred question together, summarized the matter as asking "…the interpretation of Article 4(2) of Directive 2009/24 [Software Directive], establishing the rule of exhaustion of the copyright holder’s distribution right, and of Article 5(1) and (2) of [the Directive], laying down exceptions to that rightholder’s exclusive right of reproduction, must be interpreted as referring to the equivalent provisions of Directive 91/250 [Computer Programs Directive], namely Article 4(c) thereof, on the one hand, and Article 4(a) and Article 5(1) and (2) thereof, on the other". Effectively the questions seek to establish whether the exhaustion of rights after their first sale under the Software Directive is interpreted as meaning the same equivalent provision as set out in the Computer Programs Directive.

Having discussed the admissibility of the claim overall, allowing for them to be referred to the CJEU, the Court first looked at the actual concept of exhaustion.

For exhaustion to apply to the right to distribute computer programs in the EU it is is subject to two conditions: "...(i) the copy must have been placed on the market and, more specifically, sold by the rightholder or with his consent, and (ii) it must have been placed on the market in the European Union". Sale in itself means the sale of a program for an unlimited period in return for a fee to remunerate the rightsholder for the distribution of that particular program. While the Court has clearly established that, at least in most cases, the sale applies to physical copies of the programs only; the case at hand discussed the resale of electronic copies, and thus would be outside of the prima facie remit of the provisions.

Even Santa has to resell some things
The Court followed this with observations that, although the provisions above discuss 'a copy' of the program, no particular medium is specified, and, following the decision in UsedSoft, the law "...makes no distinction according to the tangible or intangible form of the copy in question". The sale then clearly applies irrespective of the medium of the program, as long as it has been initially sold in the EU lawfully. The reseller can, therefore, resell a copy of a program provided that "…[the] sale does not adversely affect the rightholder’s exclusive reproduction right".

Mr Ranks and Vasiļevičs also argued that the rule would allow for the resale of computer programs stored on a non-original medium (i.e. electronically rather than on a CD or DVD, for example) if the original medium has been damaged. While Article 5 of the Computer Program Directive allows for the making of back-up copies, the exception is limited to instances where "… That copy… (i) [is] made by a person having a right to use that program and (ii) [is] necessary for that use". Clearly, the resale of 'back-up' copies would not fall under Article 5, even if the original copy has been damaged. The CJEU followed this rationale, establishing that a copy cannot be resold even if the original medium has been damaged, and can only be used to meet the sole needs of the person who made that back-up copy.

Although UsedSoft established that the purchaser of a legal electronic copy of a computer program does have the right to resell their copy (and the rights were exhausted as a result of that initial sale), this can be distinguished from the resale of a back-up copy, since the back-up would not have been the item that was originally sold (which was the tangible copy) and exhaustion would not, arguably, apply. Has the individuals purchased the copies from Microsoft legally from their website, they potentially could have had the right to resell the copies.

In the end the CJEU summarized their decision as "… that Article 4(a) and (c) and Article 5(1) and (2) of Directive 91/250 must be interpreted as meaning that, although the initial acquirer of a copy of a computer program accompanied by an unlimited user licence is entitled to resell that copy and his licence to a new acquirer, he may not, however, in the case where the original material medium of the copy that was initially delivered to him has been damaged, destroyed or lost, provide his back-up copy of that program to that new acquirer without the authorisation of the rightholder".

The resale of computer programs is a very thorny topic, as one can see, and the resolution the CJEU came up with seems to make the most sense. This allows for the resale of genuine copies of programs, yet reserves the rights to only those with a bona fide interest in doing so, rather than a mere opportunistic view for quick monetary gains. The limitation of the resale of back-up copies also makes sense, since, as the original program was bought in a tangible medium, the original seller's view couldn't have been one that allows for the resale of any back-up copies (especially since back-ups, by nature, are for the user and no one else as a means to access their programs in the event of damage or loss to the CD/DVD). It will be interesting to see whether this case spawns more litigation; however, this writer seems to be quite skeptical of this, due to the complexity and lack of benefit to those who'd pursue this avenue more vigorously.

19 October, 2016

In the Shadows - A Silhouette Image is Not a Registrable Trademark, Says EU General Court

Images can evoke powerful feelings, associations and preconceptions, especially when paired with particular goods that aim to enhance our lives or even our own well-being. With the health supplement market reaching a staggering $19 billion in 2015, even a small slice of that pie can make any product a huge success monetarily. As the market has grown this competitive, so have the efforts of product manufacturers to distinguish their goods from the rest, including through the use of trademarks and distinctive names. As the products are often, arguably at least, quite similar in functionality and marketing, can one expect to register something simple as, say the silhouette of a body builder, in conjunction with protein supplements? In a recent decision the EU General Court aimed to tackle this problem, and to potentially narrow or widen the scope of these types of marks in the EU.

The case of Universal Protein Supplements v EUIPO dealt with an application to register the silhouette of a body builder by UPS as a EU trademark (using the same image as their registered trademark 11827599), specifically in classes 5, 25 and 35, covering, among others, clothing, nutritional supplements and online retails store services for nutritional supplements. Following UPS' application both the initial examiner and the Board of Appeal rejected the mark, refusing it under both Article 7(1)(b) and (c) of Regulation No 207/2009. USP appealed both decisions, and ultimately ended up in the EU General Court, which handed down its judgment nearly three weeks ago.

Body-building is rough, even with supplements
The General Court first started by assessing whether the mark was only indicative of, among other factors, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin or the time of production of the goods, under Article 7(1)(c). To further expand on this, the provision aims to allow all producers of goods to use certain common indicators of quality and origin, so as to enable proper competition in a particular area of commerce. These indicators also don't serve as proper indicators of origin, allowing for consumers to purchase the same quality product (or in the inverse, avoid the same) knowing fully where it comes from per the marks used. This means that, for a mark to avoid Article 7(1)(c) "...there must be a sufficiently direct and specific relationship between the sign and the goods or services in question such as to enable the public concerned to perceive immediately, without further reflection, a description of the goods and services in question or one of their characteristics".

The Court quickly determined that, in relation to all of the goods in the above classes, the mark was descriptive of those goods, as they related to body-building and were clearly designed for the very same. They added that "...it is common knowledge that drawings and photos of body-builders posing are often reproduced on the products themselves or in advertisements in order to indicate the intended purpose of the goods and services at issue, all relating, in particular, to the practice of body-building". One can appreciate this rationale, since the use of body builders, whether in silhouette form or not, is quite common in body-building and goods associated with it. It is arguable that, as there are plenty of other marks that use the same style of silhouette which have been registered, that the mark should be, potentially, registrable as well.

To summarize their position, the General Court concluded that "...informing the relevant public that the goods and services concerned are made or adapted for body-building, the mark applied for has a sufficiently direct and specific link with nutritional supplements, clothing, footwear, as well as online retail store services of those goods and goods related to health and diet", and the mark therefore fell foul of Article 7(1)(c).

The Court rejected the assertion that a silhouette could not be descriptive of goods as a style of mark, especially when the characteristics of the silhouette are clear and indicative of a body-builder. Also, the mark, although not highly detailed, doesn't require any mental effort from the public that perceives it, making a connection with body-building easily. Finally, although a silhouette of a body-builder can be, in many ways, a very variable style, it still does not mean the silhouette would not be descriptive, even with the possibility of several similar signs distinguishing similar goods successfully. The General Court ultimately rejected the appeal.

While the case is by no means revolutionary, it does illustrate a need to be careful in the choice of marks for specific goods, especially when the depiction could be closely linked to the goods at hand (by way of example, a bar bell could've just as well been descriptive here). Trademarks are a fickle mistress, as many similar marks to the one in question have been successfully registered, and applicants therefore have to be doubly careful with the marks that they choose to use.

12 October, 2016

Confusion Is Right - Likelihood of Confusion in a Part of the EU Doesn't (Necessarily) Lead to Pan-EU Injunction

Due to the vastness of the internal market in the EU, the enforcement of rights can be difficult, especially when those rights have been infringed in one Member State, but not necessarily in the rest (or to the same degree as in the original country of issue). The EU trademark gives for EU-wide protection, but in the event that national courts disagree on the interpretation of a degree of similarity between a registered EUTM and a competing mark, is EU-wide protection afforded or would the competing mark escape the clutches of the EUTM system? This question was recently answered by the CJEU in a decision handed down in late September.

The case of combit Software GmbH v Commit Business Solutions Ltd dealt with combit Software, a German software development and marketing company that holds the rights to the EU trademark for the word "combit" for similar goods and services. Commit Business Solutions is an Israeli company that sells software under the brand "Commit", on the web and in a number of countries, including in Germany, selling a German-language version of their Commit software in the country. Due to the similarity of the brands used, combit brought proceedings in Germany aiming to prevent the use of the mark for the marketing of Commit's software (with the matter ultimately being referred to the EU courts). As a peculiar part of the proceedings in Germany the court determined that, indeed, there was a likelihood of confusion in the EU for the German-speaking consumer; however, it also saw that there would be no likelihood of confusion for the English-speaking consumer. The court then referred the matter to the CJEU for ultimate determination, in particular for the lack of confusion for a significant portion of the Union.

What the referring court asked from the CJEU was summarized by the Court as whether "...Article 1(2), Article 9(1)(b) and Article 102(1) of Regulation No 207/2009 must be interpreted as meaning that, where an EU trade mark court finds that the use of a sign creates a likelihood of confusion with an EU trade mark in one part of the European Union whilst not creating such a likelihood in another part thereof, that court must conclude that there is an infringement of the exclusive right conferred by that trade mark and issue an order prohibiting the use concerned for the entire area of the European Union". This, in essence, is inquiring whether a partial likelihood of confusion in the EU would translate to a pan-EU injunction for the same, irrespective of the actual confusion determined for the other parts of the EU by the national courts.

With the EU being so different, pan-EU
injunctions are night impossible
The CJEU swiftly addressed the point, stating that when an EU trademark court finds "...that the use of a sign creates, in one part of the European Union, a likelihood of confusion with an EU trade mark, whilst, in another part of the Union, that same use does not give rise to such a likelihood of confusion, that court cannot conclude that there is no infringement of the exclusive right conferred by that trade mark". If there exists a likelihood of confusion in one part of the EU, the CJEU saw that it equates to an infringement of the conferred in the EU overall. This follows precedent in instances where a likelihood of confusion exists during opposition proceedings, but only with respect of one part of the EU.

While the above seems straightforward, the CJEU further complicated things. Following the decision in DHL Express France, if a court does not find a likelihood of confusion in a part of the EU (as in the case at hand) for any reason, such as a linguistic one, the mark isn't adversely affected and the scope of the injunction has to be restricted. However, the trade in which the potentially infringing sign is used has to be bona fide for the restriction to apply. The area restricted has to be clearly defined, not merely through linguistic borders, which does set a high threshold for a wider restricted area.

In summary, the CJEU set out that "...[the Articles of the Regulation] must be interpreted as meaning that, where an EU trade mark court finds that the use of a sign creates a likelihood of confusion with an EU trade mark in one part of the European Union whilst not creating such a likelihood in another part thereof, that court must conclude that there is an infringement of the exclusive right conferred by that trade mark and issue an order prohibiting the use in question for the entire area of the European Union with the exception of the part in respect of which there has been found to be no likelihood of confusion".

The finding of the CJEU is peculiar, since its rationale clearly leads in the direction of a pan-EU injunction, but can be restricted to only the areas affected in the EU if no likelihood of confusion arises. One has to wonder whether this would segment the single market, and potentially cause for the EU trademark to cease to function as intended; as an all-encompassing registration to protect an interest in the entire single market. Nevertheless, one can appreciate the rationale put forth by the Court. This writer will wonder whether the case will have bigger impact on the EU trademark, but doubts many courts will be brave enough to set very wide restrictions on any areas not covered by an EU trademark.

Source: IPKat