19 December, 2017

Hollowed Out - Can You Register a Geographical Name as a Trademark?

The origin of the materials of goods can be very influential as a part of a consumer's purchase decision, often signalling particularly high quality or desired traits not seen in similar materials from elsewhere. As such the location's name carries weight, and many different products can be made from the materials from the same source, albeit potentially still varying in quality. Being able to use the location's name is therefore quite important to all interested parties, so this begs the question; can you register the name as a trademark? The matter was recently discussed in the IPEC this past summer.

The case of Mermeren Kombinat AD v Fox Marble Holdings Plc concerned marble quarried from the Sivec region in Macedonia, where these types of activities have been going on since Ancient Rome. Mermeren is a marble extraction company operating since the 1950s in Prilep, a region that includes Sivec. They registered the name SIVEC as a trademark in 2014 (EUTM 12057915), ultimately pursuing Fox Marble for trademark infringement for using the name SIVEC. Fox Marble also counterclaimed for invalidity of the trademark.

The matter focussed on whether the trademark was invalid under Article 7(1)(c) of the CTM Regulation, which sets out that marks consisting exclusively of "…or indications which may serve, in trade, to designate the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin or the time of production of the goods or of rendering of the service, or other characteristics of the goods or service" cannot be registered. Even with this focus the above Article is still subject to Article 7(3), where a mark can avoid Article 7(1)(c) if it has inherent distinctive character.

The Court then moved on to assessing whether the mark in question has inherent distinctive character. After an exhaustive review of case law relating to inherent distinctive character, Judge Hacon, presiding over the matter, set out the summarised eleven principles relevant when considering distinctiveness. While not discussed at length in the decision, they are still important to keep in mind when thinking about distinctiveness.

The judge started by looking at who the average consumer is. He did, however, first observe that the CJEU has not considered the meaning of a 'relevant class of persons' or what a 'significant proportion', which are an important part of this principle. Judge Hacon concluded that this would be "…a proportion markedly above de minimis but not necessarily over half" – a line that is difficult to draw when a majority isn't needed, so will heavily rely on the facts in each case.

Not all art materials are created equal
The judge first very quickly dealt with the question of the average consumer in the matter. Agreed by both parties, the average consumer is "…a specialist dealer in marble or a person who advises their customers on the choice of materials to be used in a building, such as an architect or designer of interiors", but this person would have to be from the EU and therefore not Macedonia.

The second matter was whether the mark had inherent distinctive character. Judge Hacon swiftly determined that the mark would not have inherent distinctive character denoting geographical origin due to the obscurity of the location it referred to. The average consumer wouldn't have heard of Sivec, unless you lived near the area, which eliminates the possibility of the name having inherent distinctiveness. Use of the name would have to be disregarded, as that relates to acquired distinctive character.

The Court then moved onto the matter of acquired distinctive character. Fox Marble argued three assumptions to support a non-finding of acquired distinctiveness: the trademark is inherently distinctive and therefore can be argued to not be distinctive through use; the average consumer would only see it as denoting a geographical origin, even without knowing the place exists; and that not enough people would perceive the goods to come from Mermeren.

The judge quickly dealt with the first two assumptions, with the former having been decided when no inherent distinctive character was found. The latter was accepted by the judge, as it is possible for the average consumer to perceive the origin of the goods through this assumption; however, their actual perception would differ from this when considering the mark's use in isolation from this assumption.

Finally, the judge considered the 'messy reality' of the relevant persons' belief as to the meaning of the mark. As discussed above, the judge highlighted that, although the mark has to be perceived by a significant portion of the relevant people, this can be a portion that is markedly above de minimis. Therefore, even if all people are not persuaded, the law can still consider the amount significant.

Judge Hacon then moved onto the extensive evidence on acquired distinctive character. He concluded that "…by August 2013 a significant proportion of relevant persons, certainly markedly above de minimis and probably higher than that, had come to believe that 'Sivec' was a trade mark owned by Mermeren, signifying that marble marked with that name came from a single undertaking" and had therefore acquired distinctiveness. The more influential evidence included invoices, presence at exhibitions and advertising campaigns launched by Mermeren.

The trademark had ultimately remained validly registered and had no grounds for revocation.

The case is not ground-breaking by any means (although clarified important parts of the law in acquired distinctiveness), but shows that, through a concerted effort to educate the population as to the origin of a trademark, even if a place on Earth, can lead to a successful registration and maintenance of a mark. Evidence was clearly key in the case, rather than complex legal arguments.

Source: IPKat

12 December, 2017

All Luxury - CJEU Decides on the Legality of Selective Distribution Agreements for Luxury Goods

Prestige and exclusivity are the cornerstones of luxury goods, and the maintenance of that perception is paramount to both retaining customers and to drawing in new purchasers. As discussed in a previous article, the sale of these goods online can be difficult, especially when considering the retention of the above image. After the Advocate General's opinion in September the question of restricting the sale of luxury goods online has finally landed on the CJEU's desk, who handed down their judgment only last week.

As a brief primer, the case of Coty Germany GmbH v Parf├╝merie Akzente GmbH concerned the sale of luxury cosmetics made by Coty. The company selected distributors for its network, which included a selective distribution agreement that included a provision on the preservation of the brand's luxury image. Akzente was one of these distributors, primarily selling through their store, website and Amazon as a third-party seller. The agreement was amended by Coty sometime after, which stipulated that all internet sales have to be done through an 'electronic shop window' that preserves the luxury image of the goods. Akzente refused to sign this supplement, and Coty took matters to court in order to prohibit the sale of their goods on Amazon.

The matter ended up in the CJEU who had to answer four questions in the proceedings dealing with anti-competitive practices, and whether the selective distribution arrangements are exempt from the anti-competition provisions.

The first question posed to the Court asked, in essence, "…whether Article 101(1) TFEU must be interpreted as meaning that a selective distribution system for luxury goods designed, primarily, to preserve the luxury image of those goods can comply with that provision". The Article prevents any agreements on undertakings that may affect trade between Member States and have as their object or effect the prevention, restriction or distortion of competition in the EU.

In considering this question, the Court reiterated that selective distribution networks are allowed under Article 101 if the resellers are chosen on the basis of objective criteria of a qualitative nature; the criteria are not applied in a discriminatory fashion; the characteristics of the products necessitate such a network to preserve those characteristics; and the criteria don't go beyond what is necessary. With regards to luxury goods, the Court saw that selective distribution networks may be necessary for luxury goods, where the quality and allure and prestige of those goods is essential and should be protectable. The same applies for mandatory displays in sales to preserve that image.

In answering the first question the Court concluded that "…a selective distribution system for luxury goods designed, primarily, to preserve the luxury image of those goods complies with that provision"; however, they still have to conform to the criteria set out above.

The second question asked "…whether Article 101(1)… must be interpreted as precluding a contractual clause… which prohibits authorised distributors in a selective distribution system for luxury goods designed, primarily, to preserve the luxury image of those goods from using, in a discernible manner, third-party platforms for the online sale of the contract goods". In other words, it is asking whether a selective distribution agreement can prohibit the sale of luxury goods on websites like Amazon.

The same criteria as set out above apply to the lawfulness of the clause in the second question. Should it satisfy them it will not fall foul of Article 101.

The CJEU looked at the clause and its provisions, and concluded that it didn't contravene Article 101. The objective of the requirements on online sales is to preserve the image that it is exclusively associated with the distributor. The aim was therefore legitimate in the light of the protection of the luxury image the goods have. What the prohibition also achieves is to ensure the goods are sold in an environment that corresponds to the qualitative conditions that were agreed between Coty and Akzente. This allows for the supplier to make sure, and enforce, the sale of the goods online and to prevent any harm against the luxury image of the goods.

Luxury is worth the price (Source: HistoryTwins)
The CJEU looked at the clause and its provisions, and concluded that it didn't contravene Article 101. The objective of the requirements on online sales is to preserve the image that it is exclusively associated with the distributor. The aim was therefore legitimate in the light of the protection of the luxury image the goods have. What the prohibition also achieves is to ensure the goods are sold in an environment that corresponds to the qualitative conditions that were agreed between Coty and Akzente. This allows for the supplier to make sure, and enforce, the sale of the goods online and to prevent any harm against the luxury image of the goods.

The Court then moved onto whether the prohibition goes beyond what is necessary for the objective pursued. Due to the prohibition only applying to third-party websites, and not the Internet as a whole, the distributors are still free to sell the goods online, albeit only through a store window. Studies have also shown that the majority of online sales are made through distributors' own websites, leading to very little detriment through the prohibition (although third-party sites are growing in importance). The measure therefore does not go beyond the objective pursued.

The CJEU looked at the clause and its provisions, and concluded that it didn't contravene Article 101. The objective of the requirements on online sales is to preserve the image that it is exclusively associated with the distributor. The aim was therefore legitimate in the light of the protection of the luxury image the goods have. What the prohibition also achieves is to ensure the goods are sold in an environment that corresponds to the qualitative conditions that were agreed between Coty and Akzente. This allows for the supplier to make sure, and enforce, the sale of the goods online and to prevent any harm against the luxury image of the goods.

The answer to the question was set out as "…Article 101(1)… must be interpreted as not precluding a contractual clause… which prohibits authorised distributors in a selective distribution system for luxury goods designed, primarily, to preserve the luxury image of those goods from using, in a discernible manner, third-party platforms for the internet sale of the contract goods, on condition that that clause has the objective of preserving the luxury image of those goods, that it is laid down uniformly and not applied in a discriminatory fashion, and that it is proportionate in the light of the objective pursued, these being matters to be determined by the referring court".

The Court considered the third and fourth questions together, which asked, in essence "…whether Article 4 of Regulation No 330/2010 must be interpreted as meaning that… the prohibition imposed on the members of a selective distribution system for luxury goods, which operate as distributors at the retail level of trade, of making use, in a discernible manner, of third-party undertakings for internet sales constitutes a restriction of their customers, within the meaning of Article 4(b)... or a restriction of passive sales to end users, within the meaning of Article 4(c)".

If the distribution agreement would restrict who the distributor can sell the goods to or authorised passive sales to end users, it will not be caught by the Article 2 exemption and treated as unlawful.

The Court quickly observed that the agreement does not prohibit the use of the internet as a means of marketing the goods, nor circumscribe who can buy the goods online. Additionally, the agreement allows distributors to advertise the goods online, and considering all of the above, there is no restriction on distributors as to who the goods can be sold to or passive sales.

In short, the third and fourth questions were answered as "…the prohibition imposed on the members of a selective distribution system for luxury goods, which operate as distributors at the retail level of trade, of making use, in a discernible manner, of third-party undertakings for internet sales does not constitute a restriction of customers… or a restriction of passive sales to end users".

The case is quite an important one, which considers issues that will often pertain to the sale of luxury goods, particularly on the Internet. Clearly the image of the goods is protectable through contractual arrangements, including through some restrictions on those sales, and both distributors and brand owners should heed the decision and ensure their contracts are up to snuff.

Source: IPKat

05 December, 2017

Cast Aside - Recording of TV Through the Cloud Infringes Copyright, Says CJEU

Many foreign nationals who have immigrated abroad yearn for a piece of home, either through food, music or TV and movies. Often this is done using online or on-demand services, and this interest can create opportunists who wish to capitalise on the home-sickness of ex-pats. Quite a few websites offer both legitimate and illegitimate means of doing so. In that vein, would the recording of TV shows for users, without copying it into your own servers, infringe copyright?

The case of VCAST Limited v RTI SpA concerns this question, where VCAST offered a service to users enabling them to record Italian television on-demand to an external storage provider of their choice. The user would select which show on which channel they would want to record, which VCAST then recorded for them onto their storage provider's servers. VCAST was subsequently sued by RTI, an Italian TV channel, for copyright infringement, ending up all the way at the CJEU.

The CJEU was posed two questions in the proceedings, which it subsequently merged into one, as they asked two sides of the same coin. The question was whether "…[the InfoSoc Directive], in particular Article 5(2)(b) thereof, precludes national legislation which permits a commercial undertaking to provide private individuals with a cloud service for the remote recording of private copies of works protected by copyright, by means of a computer system, by actively involving itself in the recording, without the rightholder’s consent". In other words, is it possible for national legislation to prevent the private copying of copyright protected works using a cloud recording service.

As set out by the Court: "…Article 5(2)(b) of Directive 2001/29, Member States may provide for exceptions or limitations to the reproduction right in respect of reproductions on any medium made by a natural person for private use and for ends that are neither directly nor indirectly commercial". So long this use doesn't conflict with the works' normal exploitation or prejudice the legitimate interests in the works, exceptions and/or limitations are allowed.

According to case law, the CJEU considered that copying by natural persons acting in a private capacity would be likely to cause harm to the rightsholders concerned if prior authorisation from them isn't sought. This position was developed further in ACI Adam where the Court allowed for rightsholders objecting to infringements that might accompany the making of private copies, even though the exception prohibits them from objecting to private copying. Finally, third-parties can be involved in the making of private copies, provided they are a precondition to it.

The distinction between a mere third-party copying content and VCAST is VCAST's provision of the programs themselves, which the user then selects from. They therefore both copy and make available the copyright protected works to the consumer.


The Cloud can makes emotions run high
Even though rightsholders are prohibited from preventing the private copying of copyright works, as discussed above, they are not prohibited from preventing access to the works that are desired to be privately copied. This allowed the Court to move onto the matter of communication to the public, which third-parties cannot do. The distinction between simply copying, where the entity does not make the content available in a wider scale, and making works available and then copying them on request, is important and requires the court to address this point.

When assessing 'communication to the public' Courts have to consider two cumulative criteria; an 'act of communication' that is done to a 'public'. The former is a transmission of protected works, irrespective of technical means, and the latter an undetermined amount, although impliedly large, of people as possible recipients.

Through their service VCAST records broadcasts of TV shows and makes them available for its users. The amount of users is clearly enough to constitute a 'public', while the original transmission through VCAST's service is transmitted to that public. The service therefore infringes the right to communication to the public, and would require the authorisation of RTI (and other relevant parties not involved in the litigation).

The CJEU concluded that VCAST's service does not fall under the scope of Article 5(2)(b). In different words, answering the question posed: "…Directive 2001/29, in particular Article 5(2)(b) thereof, precludes national legislation which permits a commercial undertaking to provide private individuals with a cloud service for the remote recording of private copies of works protected by copyright, by means of a computer system, by actively involving itself in the recording, without the rightholder’s consent".

The case is quite surprising, since the matter didn't involve communication to the public at the face of it, only private copying. Even so, the connection made between the two makes sense, and is a relevant consideration in the wider issue. Third-parties making copies for users is still very much allowed; however, the stumbling block will be the making available of that content to users as done by VCAST.