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ECJ judgment in L'Oréal/Bellure

The ECJ issued today a preliminary ruling, as requested by the Court of Appeal (England and Wales), in L'Oréal/Bellure.

At stake here was the interpretation of Article 5(1) and (2) of the Trade mark Directive and of articles 3a(1)(g) and (h) of the Comparative advertising Directive.

The questions referred to the ECJ were formulated in the following terms:
1 Where a trader, in an advertisement for his own goods or services uses a registered trade mark owned by a competitor for the purpose of comparing the characteristics (and in particular the smell) of goods marketed by him with the characteristics (and in particular the smell) of the goods marketed by the competitor under that mark in such a way that it does not cause confusion or otherwise jeopardise the essential function of the trade mark as an indication of origin, does his use fall within either (a) or (h) of Art 5( I) of Directive 89/1 04?

2 Where a trader in the course of trade uses (particularly in a comparison list) a well known registered trade mark for the purpose of indicating a characteristic of his own product (particularly its smell) in such a way that:
a) it does not cause any likelihood of confusion of any sort; and
b) it does not affect the sale of the products under the well-known registered mark: and
c) it does not jeopardize the essential function of the registered trade mark as a guarantee of origin and does not harm the reputation of that mark whether by tarnishment of its image, or dilution or in any other way; and
d) it plays a significant role in the promotion of the trader's product does that use fall within Art. 5( 1)(a) of Directive 89/1 04?

3 In the context of Art 3a(g) of the Misleading Advertising Directive (84/450) as amended by the Comparative Advertising Directive (97/55), what is the meaning of "take unfair advantage of' and in particular where a trader in a comparison list compares his product with a product under a well-known trade mark, does he thereby take unfair advantage of the reputation of the well-known mark'?

4 In the context of Art. 3a(h) of the said Directive what is the meaning of "presenting goods or services as imitations or replicas" and in particular does this expression cover the case where, without in any way causing confusion or deception, a party merely truthfully says that his product has a major characteristic (smell) like that of
a well-known product which is protected by a trade mark?

5 Where a trader uses a sign which is similar to a registered trade mark which has a
reputation, and that sign is not confusingly similar to the trade mark, in such a way
(a) the essential function of the registered trade mark of providing a guarantee of origin is not impaired or put at risk;
(b) there is no tarnishing or blurring of the registered trade mark or its reputation
or any risk of either of these;
(c) the trade mark owner's sales are not impaired: and
(d) the trade mark owner is not deprived of any of the reward for promotion, maintenance or enhancement of his trade mark;
(c) But the trader gets a commercial advantage from the use of his sign by reason
of its similarity to the registered mark
does that use amount to the taking of "an unfair advantage" of the reputation of the
registered mark within the meaning ofArt.5(2) of the Trade Mark Directive?
In its judgment issued on 18 June 2009, the ECJ responded:

1. Article 5(2) of First Council Directive 89/104 ... must be interpreted as meaning that the taking of unfair advantage of the distinctive character or the repute of a mark, within the meaning of that provision, does not require that there be a likelihood of confusion or a likelihood of detriment to the distinctive character or the repute of the mark or, more generally, to its proprietor. The advantage arising from the use by a third party of a sign similar to a mark with a reputation is an advantage taken unfairly by that third party of the distinctive character or the repute of that mark where that party seeks by that use to ride on the coat-tails of the mark with a reputation in order to benefit from the power of attraction, the reputation and the prestige of that mark and to exploit, without paying any financial compensation, the marketing effort expended by the proprietor of the mark in order to create and maintain the mark’s image.

2. Article 5(1)(a) of Directive 89/104 must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a registered trade mark is entitled to prevent the use by a third party, in a comparative advertisement which does not satisfy all the conditions, laid down in Article 3a(1) of Council Directive 84/450/EEC of 10 September 1984 concerning misleading and comparative advertising, as amended by Directive 97/55/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 6 October 1997, under which comparative advertising is permitted, of a sign identical with that mark in relation to goods or services which are identical with those for which that mark was registered, even where such use is not capable of jeopardising the essential function of the mark, which is to indicate the origin of the goods or services, provided that such use affects or is liable to affect one of the other functions of the mark.

3. Article 3a(1) of Directive 84/450, as amended by Directive 97/55, must be interpreted as meaning that an advertiser who states explicitly or implicitly in comparative advertising that the product marketed by him is an imitation of a product bearing a well-known trade mark presents ‘goods or services as imitations or replicas’ within the meaning of Article 3a(1)(h). The advantage gained by the advertiser as a result of such unlawful comparative advertising must be considered to be an advantage taken unfairly of the reputation of that mark within the meaning of Article 3a(1)(g).

The ECJ decision (Case C‑487/07) is available on Curia.

Previous posts on this case: AG opinion, Some questions on L'Oréal/Bellure (German translation).

Posted by: Frédéric Glaize @ 12.58
Tags: ECJ reference for preliminary ruling, L'Oréal v Bellure,
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MARQUES does not guarantee the accuracy of the information in this blog. The views are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily reflect those of MARQUES. Seek professional advice before action on any information included here.

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