27 June, 2018

A Terrible Cover-Up - Addition of a Small Label is not Repackaging (and Doesn't Infringe TMs), says CJEU

Repackaging branded goods can be a legitimate way to resell branded goods in a different jurisdiction, avoiding the potential confusion of where the goods actually originate from (and whether they are counterfeit). The allowance is still a tough line to toe, particularly when minimal efforts are taken to repackage the relevant goods. In the light of this, what amounts to repackaging, and what would be a potential minimum standard for repackaging so as to avoid trademark infringement in the EU? Luckily, the CJEU was poised to answer this question in a case that was decided last month.

The case of Junek Europ-Vertrieb GmbH v Lohmann & Rauscher International GmbH & Co KG concerned the sale of medical dressings made by Lohmann, sold under the brand "Debrisoft" (TM No. 8852279). Junek parallel imported and sold sanitary preparations in Austria, including Debrisoft products. In a package of Debrisoft, purchased by Lohmann in Austria, Junek had affixed a label onto the box that contained its address and telephone number, a barcode and a central pharmaceutical number. The label was applied to a non-printed part of the packaging. Junek had not notified Lohmann of the reimportation of the products, nor had they supplied Junek with the modified packaging. Lohmann then took Junek to court for trademark infringement.

The referring court set out a single question for the CJEU, which, in essence, asked "…whether Article 13(2) of [the CTM Regulation] must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a mark may oppose the further commercialisation, by a parallel importer, of a medical device in its original internal and external packaging when an additional label, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, has been added by the importer". Additionally the court asks whether the principles in the cases Bristol-Meyers Squibb and Boehringer Ingelheim apply without restrictions to parallel imports of medical devices.

When it comes to repackaging of goods, the Court emphasised that any repackaging done by a third party without the proprietor's consent could create a risk in terms of the guarantee of origin of the goods. Even so, original proprietors cannot prevent the importation of repackaged goods simply to derogate from the free movement of goods, although the repackaging should not adversely affect the original condition of the goods or the reputation of the mark.

When repackaging, be honest
The CJEU has previously in the above two cases set out the principles under which exhaustion of rights operates in relation to parallel imports. A proprietor can oppose the further commercialisation of pharmaceutical products imported from another Member State in its original internal and external packaging with an additional external label applied by the importer, unless:

(i) it is established that the use of the trade mark rights by the proprietor thereof to oppose the marketing of the relabelled products under that trade mark would contribute to the artificial partitioning of the markets between Member States; (ii) it is shown that the repackaging cannot affect the original condition of the product inside the packaging; (iii) the new packaging states clearly who repackaged the product and the name of the manufacturer; (iv) the presentation of the repackaged product is not such as to be liable to damage the reputation of the trade mark and of its owner; thus, the packaging must not be defective, of poor quality, or untidy; and (v) the importer gives notice to the trade mark proprietor before the repackaged product is put on sale, and, on demand, supplies him with a specimen of the repackaged product.

In the light of the above, 'repackaging' of goods also includes relabeling the products bearing the mark.

The Court distinguished the current case from the facts of Boehringer Ingelheim, which dealt with repackaging, albeit both affixing an external label and opening the packaging and inserting an information leaflet. In contrast, Junek had only affixed a small label on the outside of the packaging, which didn't obscure the mark or any other details. The Court concluded that their actions therefore would not amount to repackaging as set out in Boehringer Ingelheim. Due to this the Court precluded Junek from preventing the importation of the goods to the Member State.

The Court summarised its answer to the question as "… Article 13(2)… must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a mark cannot oppose the further commercialisation, by a parallel importer, of a medical device in its original internal and external packaging where an additional label… has been added by the importer, which, by its content, function, size, presentation and placement, does not give rise to a risk to the guarantee of origin of the medical device bearing the mark".

Clearly the Court drew a line in the impact a small label could have to the guarantee of origin of goods, as it does not affect the consumer's knowledge of the origin or the contents of the package. One can indeed appreciate this common sense approach, as the prohibition of the addition of a parallel importer's details could also result in the impossibility of resolving any issues with the product when imported separately from the original proprietor.

12 June, 2018

Well Red - Louboutin's Red Shoe Sole TM is Registrable, Says CJEU

The build-up with the Louboutin red sole case has been quite extensive and unique in that Advocate General Szpunar had to give not one, but two opinions on the case ahead of the CJEU's decision (discussed more here and here). There was some degree of uproar with the latest opinion, and hence many trademark practitioners have been salivating at the prospect of the CJEU decision, which could have quite a bit of an impact on the current trademarks regime in Europe. With that in mind, the decision has finally been released by the CJEU earlier this week.

Even though the facts of Christian Louboutin v Van Haren Schoenen BV have been discussed extensively on this blog, they are worth revisiting. The matter concerned a trademark registration (TM 0874489) in Benelux for a red colored sole on a women's high-heeled shoe by Christian Louboutin. The mark consisted of the color on the sole of the shoe, but did not take into account the contours of the shoe, which only served an illustrative purpose on the positioning of the mark. Van Haren sold a similar red soled shoe in the Netherlands, for which they were sued by Louboutin for trademark infringement. The mark was contested by Van Haren, and ultimately ended up with the CJEU.

The referring court asked, in essence, "…whether Article 3(1)(e)(iii) of Directive 2008/95 must be interpreted as meaning that a sign consisting of a colour applied to the sole of a high-heeled shoe… consists exclusively of a ‘shape’, within the meaning of that provision".

Stephanie had to forget her 'totally unique' shoe design
after the decision
The Court initially affirmed that EU legislation generally accepts that the 'shape' of a trademark within the meaning of Article 3(e), means a set of lines or contours that outline the product concerned, potentially excluding any colors that don't have an outline defining said 'shape'. Any marks that merely consist of that shape would be deemed invalid.

Nonetheless, the Court did determine that "…while it is true that the shape of the product or of a part of the product plays a role in creating an outline for the colour, it cannot, however, be held that a sign consists of that shape in the case where the registration of the mark did not seek to protect that shape but sought solely to protect the application of a colour to a specific part of that product". This would exclude any signs that merely apply a color to an apparent shape from the remit of Article 3(e), such as the shoe in the Louboutin trademark.

If the shape of the shoe is excluded from the mark, the Court considered that the mark therefore could not exclusively consist of a shape, as the main element of that sign is a specific colour designated by an internationally recognised identification code (in this instance Pantone 18‑1663TP).

In short, the Court concluded that "…Article 3(1)(e)(iii)… must be interpreted as meaning that a sign consisting of a colour applied to the sole of a high-heeled shoe… does not consist exclusively of a ‘shape’, within the meaning of that provision".

The case is quite important, as the registration of a trademark for a color, excluding any shape that is used to illustrate the placement of the color, would be allowed under the ruling. The decision completely ignored the AG's considerations of reputation and the addition of value through the introduction of the mark, which were the main points that many found contentious. Whether this omission will be challenged in future case law remains to be seen.

05 June, 2018

A Fortine at the PUBG - Can You Protect a Video Game Format?

Video games have effectively become mainstream entertainment during this writer's lifetime, and with that increased popularity their value to companies has also gone up. If one video game becomes popular, other developers often jump at the chance of taking advantage of the popularity with their own spin. An example of a recent explosion in video game types are battle royale games, where several players fight for survival with limited resources, with the last person standing winning that particular session. The two most popular ones are PUBG (PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds) and Fortnite, developed by PUBG Corporation and Epic Games respectively. As the two battle royale titans battle it out for popularity, there is a risk of lawsuits going either way to protect their interests.

According to the Korean Times, PUBG have filed a lawsuit against Epic Games for copyright infringement in Korea, alleging that "…Fortnite was copied from… PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds", including replicating the 'experience' for which PUBG is known, including the game's 'core elements' and user interface. PUBG have raised concerns over replication as early as September 2017, when Fortnite's battle royal mode was announced, including over Fortnite's "…User Interface, gameplay and structural replication in the battle royale mode". PUBG are, however, licensees of Epic Games' Unreal Engine 4, which adds yet another layer of complications into the mix, and a potential pitfall for PUBG in their claim.

While it is unclear, at least to this writer, how the Korean courts will deal with a claim concerning the claims on video game formats (any readers with further knowledge should let me know!), how do other jurisdictions deal with these questions?

PUBG's lawyers had a dream
about the wording of the court ruling
There has been very little video game related litigation in the UK. The most recent one, Nova Productions Ltd v Mazooma Games Ltd, dates back to 2006. In the case the UK Court of Appeal saw that "…Not all of the skill which goes into a copyright work is protected... An idea consisting of a combination of ideas is still just an idea. That is as true for ideas in a computer program as for any other copyright work". The court's emphasis was on the lack of protection for the ideas surrounding a game, which could, at least in this writer's view, preclude the protection of video game formats like battle royale.

In the US the situation is slightly different. In Tetris Holding LLC v Xio Interactive the New York District Court found that a Tetris clone had infringed the copyright in the work, although protection was largely extended only due to the similarities in aesthetics between the games. The underlying rules of the game (i.e. format, one could argue) can be protected only if the expression of those rules is somehow limited, or isn't part of scènes à faire. Similarly, in DaVinci Editrice SRL v Ziko Games LLC, the District Court of Texas decided that "…the rules, procedures, and limits that make up the game play are not protectable expression". To add more fuel to this fire, the US Copyright Office has set out that "…Copyright does not protect the idea for a game… or the method or methods for playing it. Nor does copyright protect any idea, system, method, device, or trademark material involved in developing, merchandising, or playing a game". One can appreciate that the American system protects the aesthetic expression of a video game (and arguably rightfully so), rather than the rules under which it operates.

Clearly the protection of a video game format, i.e. the rules that underpin the game itself, are very difficult to protect, particularly under copyright. While this writer does not know what the Korean regime is for copyright in this area, it seems very doubtful that it would be very different from the above. As both PUBG and Fortnite differ dramatically in their aesthetics (although a more detailed analysis of all elements of each game could yield some infringing elements), it would seem that PUBG have more to lose than just a copyright lawsuit should things go badly.