As stated in a previous article published in the Trademark and Unfair Competition Bulletin1)“FR – Creation of a new industrial property right in France : « The Geographical indication of industrial and handicraft products »”, … Continue reading, the Act no. 2014–344 on consumer protection, named “Hamon Act” and dated March 17, 2014, created a new industrial property right: the “Geographical Indications protecting Industrial Products and Crafts” (or “Indications Géographiques protégeant les Produits Industriels et Artisanaux”, hereinater, “IGPIA”) in order to include industrial and handicraft products in the scope of the protection of geographical indications.

In the same article, the authors highlighted the fact that prior to the implementation of the aforementioned provision, there was a lack of protection since a third party could use the name of a famous place or city and register it as a trademark to misleadingly sell handicraft products under that name.

Introduction to the Laguiole case

A famous example was the “Laguiole cutlery” case where a third party, among others, was using the famous French city name of “Laguiole” as a trademark to flood the market with knives made in China under that brand. Following the scandal that ensued, the Laguiole municipality launched an action against several companies and legal persons that had registered 27 trademarks in total, on the ground that such use of “Laguiole” was deceptive.

Indeed, the trademark “Laguiole” had been filled in almost all trademarks’ classes and therefore the Laguiole municipality was prevented from using such trademark for its own activities, and in particular for its renowned cheese and cutlery.

After a first instance ruling, the Paris Court of Appeal rejected the Laguiole municipality’s action in 2014 which was subsequently presented to the French Supreme Court (“Cour de cassation”).

The Cour de cassation ruling
By a ruling dated 4 October 2016, the Cour de cassation overturned parts of the ruling of the Court of Appeal and welcomed the argumentation of the Laguiole municipality.

Indeed, the Cour de cassation considered that the use of the “Laguiole” trademark by the defendants was misleading and confusing to consumers since the products sold under that trademark were not manufactured in such place.

In addition to such argument based on consumer protection laws, several arguments grounded on trademark law were also favorably received by the Cour de cassation. However, as such Court only has jurisdiction over legal qualification but not on facts, the end of this saga will be written by the Court of Appeal to which the case has been remanded to for the final ruling.

This Court of Appeal will hopefully close the ongoing debate. However, such Court of Appeal may also side with the initial Court of Appeal ruling. In such a case, the Cour de cassation may have to hear the case again.

Nevertheless, such litigation intervenes in a context where IGPIA have effectively become protected. Even if Laguiole was not among the five applications filed for IGPIA in France (out of which only one has been granted so far), the broad power given to geographical indications with the adoption of the European Regulation No 2015/2424 amending the Community Trade Mark Regulation and the European Directive No 2015/2436 approximating the laws of the Member States relating to trade marks may have an impact on players’ practices.

Indeed, according to these Regulations, the national right granted on geographical indications through IGPIA or otherwise conferred by the courts, may materialize a ground for refusal for not only trademarks applications but also European trademarks. There is thus a strong incentive to seek this protection by any means necessary.

In collaboration with Clémence Marolla.

First publication in the K&L Gates Trademarks & Unfair Competition Bulletin, 1/2017 – Avril 2017

References

1 “FR – Creation of a new industrial property right in France : « The Geographical indication of industrial and handicraft products »”, Olivia Roche and Claude-Etienne Armingaud, TM and Unfair Competition Bulletin, no. 2/2014 (14)

In view of the strong international dimension, notably European, of commercial issues related to trademarks, the economic players do not limit the scope of their protection to one single national territory anymore. On the contrary, the current trend is to multiply of the trademarks filings, which often leads to a variety of protections, for a same sign, through a national trademark, a European Union (EU) trademark and an international trademark.

However, in France, the jurisdiction of the courts varies depending upon these different titles, and thus requires, prior to introducing an action, adopting an actual procedural strategy. The Commercial Division of the French Supreme Court, in a decision dated 6 September, 2016 1) Commercial Division of the French Supreme Court, 6 September 2016, No.15-29.113 , confirmed these strategical issues relating to the choice of the forum election. Indeed, according to this decision, limiting the scope of a proceeding to French trademarks becomes a real advantage (1.), which could lead, in fine, to a new equilibrium for trademark litigation in France (2.)
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References

1 Commercial Division of the French Supreme Court, 6 September 2016, No.15-29.113

After its invalidation of the data retention requirements imposed by Directive 2006/24/EC in its Digital Rights Ireland decision dated 8 April 2014, the ECJ was requested to assess the compatibility with the Directive 2002/58/EC (the “ePrivacy Directive”) and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union (the “CFREU”) of a domestic legislation mandating a general and indiscriminate obligation to retain traffic and location data, without prior judicial review, for purposes including the fight against crime.). The ECJ joined the two cases which had been submitted for review and issued its decision on 21 December 2016 (the “Decision”).
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On October 6, 2015, the European Court of Justice (“ECJ”) ruled in the “Schrems”case that the U.S.-EU Safe Harbor framework on the transfer of personal data from Europe to the United States, was invalid.

The earlier is the owner of the French and Community semi-figurative trademark “vente-privee.com”, underlined with a pink line drawn in diagonal, enriched by two pink butterflies.

The latter is the owner of the French trademark “showroomprive.com” and expected the registration of a community semi-figurative trademark “showroomprive.com” enhanced with some stylized and coloured elements.

However, on August 1, 2012, the Office for the Harmonisation of the Internal Market (herein, “OHIM“) refused such application for “SHOWROOMPRIVE.COM” on the ground that the trademark was not distinctive enough and, much to the contrary, was descriptive for the targeted goods and services.

At the same time, on September 5, 2012, Showroomprive.com assigned before the Paris first instance Court, its competitor, Vente-privee.com, in order to invalidate the “vente-privee.com” trademark for lack of distinctiveness. This trademark had been registered since October 14, 2004 without any complains from ShowroomPrive.com or any other third party.

The first instance Court welcomed Showroomprive.com’s request and decided that “the terms ‘venteprivee.com’ was, at the time of the application date, descriptive of the company’s business activity for every consumer wishing to buy online discounted products; and thus such use was necessary to designate its private sales activity.” In addition, the Paris Court highlighted that the trademark had not acquired any “distinctiveness through its use, thus enabling the term to take ownership of generic names, when such names must remain available for all the economic actors from a given sector.

Meanwhile, on December 6t, 2013, in another law suit, Vente-privee.com assigned the owner of similar domain names (namely vente-priveee.com, ventprivee.com, venteprives.com) on the basis of its cybersquatting activities. The French first instance Court highlighted that the semi-figurative “vente-privée.com” trademark had to be considered as a well-known trademark. Indeed, in this case, the Court decided that the “vente-privée.com” trademark had a strong reputation due to the fact that a significant part of the relevant public made a connection between the trademark and its associated goods and services.

In conclusion, the decision concerning the semi-figurative trademark should not affect the word trademark “SHOWROOMPRIVE.COM” registered in 2007 by the OHIM. Nevertheless, we can legally wonder about the consequences in case of further contestation regarding a word mark and a close watch should be kept on any follow up evolution.

First published in K&L Gates Trade marks and unfair competition Bulletin no. 1/2014 (PDF) in collaboration with Alexandra Bernard.