20 December 2017Trademarks

Aldi must prove Champagne taste in TM clash, rules CJEU

Retailer Aldi must prove that one of the essential characteristics of its product, ‘Champagner Sorbet’, is that its taste is primarily attributable to Champagne.

Today, the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) presented Aldi with an opportunity to prove that its sorbet does not take undue advantage of the protected designation of origin (PDO) for Champagne.

Champagne is protected by strict rules that mean it can only be produced at certified vineyards and by specific methods in its home region in northern France.

In 2012, Aldi sold the sorbet in packaging that showed a cork, a half full glass and a drink that is presumed to be champagne.

Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (the Bundesgerichtshof) had asked whether the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne, the trade body that protects France’s Champagne wines, was entitled to request that sales of the sorbet be halted.

In July this year, advocate general Manuel Campos Sánchez-Bordona said Aldi may be hard-pressed to emerge victorious in the dispute.

In its ruling today, Europe’s highest court found that the unlawful exploitation of the reputation of a PDO entails use of the PDO that seeks to take undue advantage of its reputation, and that the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ is liable to extend the reputation of Champagne to that product.

However, it went on to add that Aldi must show the taste of Champagne is one of the essential characteristics of the sorbet.

The national court must now determine whether Aldi fulfils the condition.

“The court observes in that regard that the quantity of Champagne in the sorbet is a significant but not, in itself, sufficient factor,” said a press release on the CJEU’s judgment.

If Aldi fails to convince the court of this, the CJEU said it would possible for the court to conclude that the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ on the inner or outer packaging of the product “constituted a false or misleading indication and was therefore unlawful”.

The court also observed that where the PDO is used directly to openly claim a taste quality connected with the PDO, it doesn’t amount to “misuse, imitation or evocation”.

In a comment emailed to WIPR, a spokesperson for Aldi said that the sorbet has a taste attributable primarily to Champagne “as one of its essential characteristics”.

They added that the final ruling by the Federal Court of Justice is pending.

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