Limitations on the Effectiveness of Trademark Laws in the EU

>Case Study – Trade Mark

The Council of the European Communities issued Directive 89/104/EEC, dated December 21, 1988, to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to Trade Marks (OJ EC No L 40 of 11.2.1989, p.1)

Article 6 of the Directive reads the following:

1. The trade mark shall not entitle the proprietor to prohibit a third party from using, in the course of trade,
a- His own name or address;
b- Indications concerning the kind, quality, quantity, intended purpose, value, geographical origin, the time of production of goods or of rendering of the service, or other characteristics of goods or services;
c- The trademark where it is necessary to indicate the intended purpose of a product or service, in particular as accessories or spare parts; provided he uses them in accordance with honest practices in industrial or commercial matters.
2. The trademark shall not entitle the proprietor to prohibit a third party from using, in the course of trade, an earlier right which only applies in a particular locality if that right is recognized by the laws of the Member State in question and within the limits of the territory in which it is recognized.

The European Court of Justice (Third Chamber) issued a preliminary ruling on March 17, 2005, (Case C-228/03, Gillette Company and Gillette Group Finland Oy v LA Laboratories Ltd., Oy), stating that the purpose of Article 6 of the Directive seeks to reconcile the fundamental interests of trademark protection with those of free movement of goods and freedom to provide services in the common market, in such a way that trademark rights are able to fulfill their essential role in the Community of undistorted competition which the Treaty seeks to establish and maintain.

Article 6 (1)(b) of the Directive provides that the proprietor of the trademark may not prohibit a third party from using, in the course of trade, the geographical origin of goods, provided the third party uses them in accordance with honest practices in industrial or commercial matters.

THE GILLETTE COMPANY AND GILLETTE GROUP FINLAND OY
V
LA – LABORATORIES LTD OY
Case-228/03

Gillette and Sensor, a registered trademark in Finland, for hand tools and implements (hand-operated) cutlery, side arms, razors and products were sold through its exclusive licensee in Finland.

LA-Laboratories also sells, razors in Finland, they are composed of handles and replaceable blades, and blades similar to those marked by Gillette Group, Finland. LA Laboratories Sell those blades under the mark Parason Flexor and their packaging have stickers fixed on them with the words “All Parason Flexor and Gillette Sensor handles are compatible with this blade”.

LA-Laboratories had no authorization, by a trademark license or any contract to use the trademarks of Gillette.

Gillette brought up an action before the Court of First Instance of Helsinki for trademark infringement, arguing that LA-Laboratories created a link in the mind of consumers between the products marketed by the latter and those of the Gillette companies, or gave the false impression that LA-Laboratories was authorized, by virtue of a license or for another reason, to use Gillette and Sensor marks

In its judgment on March 30, 2000, the Court of First Instance in Finland held that, the Gillette Companies held the exclusion right to affix the Gillette and Sensor marks to their products and their packaging, and to use these marks in advertising, therefore, by mentioning those marks in an eye-catching manner on the packaging of its product, LA-Laboratories had infringed that exclusive right. The Court of First Instance in Finland further held, that Article 4(2) of the Finnish trademark law, which provided for an exception to that principle of exclusivity, must be interpreted narrowly in the light of Article 6(1)(c) of Directive 89/104. In its view, that provision does not relate to the essential parts of a product but only to spare parts, accessories and other similar parts, which are compatible with the manufactured product or marketed by another person. The court held that, both, the handle and the blade were both parts of the razor and not spare parts or accessories, on these grounds, the court decided to prohibit LA-Laboratories from pursuing or renewing the infringement of the Gillette Companies’ rights over the Gillette and Sensor marks, and ordered that company to remove and destroy the stickers used in Finland and to pay the Gillette Companies for damages.

LA-Laboratories appealed to the Court of Appeal in Hilsinki. The Court held that, both of the handle and the blade were to be regarded as essential parts of the razor and not as spare parts or accessories. The razor was composed of a handle and a blade; the consumer could replace the blade by a new one, sold separately. The latter, being a substitution for a former part of the razor, could therefore be regarded as a spare part within the meaning of Article 4(2) of the Finnish Trademark Law (tavaramerkkilaki).

Article 4 of that law provides:

1-“The right under Articles 1 and 3 of this law affix a distinctive sign on one’s goods means that no one other than the proprietor of the sign may, in the course of trade, uses as a sign for his products references which could create confusion, whether on the goods or their packaging, in advertising or business documents or otherwise, including by word of mouth…

2-It is regarded as unauthorized use for the purposes of the first paragraph inter alia if a person, when putting on the market spare parts, accessories or the like which are suited to a third party’s products, refers to that party’s sign in a manner that is liable to create the impression that the product put on the market originates from the proprietor of the sign or that the proprietor has agreed to the use of the sign.”

Secondly, the Court of Appeal held that “the indication on the sticker affixed to the packaging of the razor blades marketed by LA-Laboratories, to the effect that, besides being compatible with handles of the Parason Flexor type, those blades were also compatible with handles marketed by Gillette Companies, could be useful to the consumer and that LA-Laboratories might therefore be able to demonstrate the need to mention the Gillette and Sensor trademarks on the sticker.”

Thirdly, the packaging of razor blades marketed by LA-Laboratories clearly bore its own Parason and Flexor signs, unequivocally indicating the origin of the product. The reference to the Gillette and Sensor marks in small standard lettering on stickers of a relatively modest size affixed to the exterior of that packaging “could not in any way have given the impression that there was a commercial connection between the Gillette Companies and LA-Laboratories, and that the latter had therefore referred to those marks in circumstances allowed by Article 4(2)” of the Finnish Trademark Law. The Court of Appeal therefore annulled the judgment of the lower court and dismissed the action brought by Gillette Companies.

Gillette then appealed to the Korkein Oikeus, a higher court, which took the view that the case raised questions as to the interpretation of Article 6(1)(c) ofDirective 89/104 in relation to the criteria for determining whether, by its nature, a product is or is not compatable to a spare part or an accessory, in relation to the requirement that use of a mark belonging to another person must be necessary in order to indicate the intended purpose of a product, and in relation to the concept of honest practices in industrial or commercial matters, the interpretation of those provisions also having to take account of Directive 84/450.

The Korkein Oikeus decided to stay the proceedings and refer the following question to the Court of Justice for preliminary ruling:

“When applying Article 6(1)(c ) of the First Council Directive 89/104EEC to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trademarks:,

1) What are the criteria?

a) On the basis of which the question of regarding a product as a spare part or accessory is to be decided, and
b) On the basis of which those products to be regarded as other than spare parts and accessories, which can also fall within the scope of the said subparagraph, are to be determined?
2) Is the permissibility of the use of a third party’s trademark to be assessed differently, depending on whether the product is like a spare part or accessory or whether it is a product which can fall within the scope of the said subparagraph on another basis?

3) How should the requirement that the use must be “necessary” to indicate the intended purpose of a product be interpreted? Can the criterion of necessity be satisfied even though if would in itself be possible to state the intended purpose without an express reference to the third party’s trademark, by merely mentioning only for instance the technical principle of functioning of the product> What significance does it have in that case that the statement may be more difficult for consumers to understand if there is no express reference to the third party’s trade mark?

4) What factors should be taken into account when assessing use in a accordance with honest commercial practice? Does mentioning a third party’s trademark in connection with the marketing of one’s own product constitute a reference to the fact that the marketer’s own product corresponds, in quality and technically or as regards its other properties, to the product designated by a third party’s trademark?

5) Does it affect the permissibility of the use of a third party’s trademark that the economic operator who refers to the third party’s trademark also markets, in addition to a spare part or accessory, a product of his own with which that spare part or accessory is intended to be used with?”

The Ruling

In answer to those questions, the European Court of Justice (Third Chamber) ruled as Follows:

1. The lawfulness or otherwise of the use of the trademark under Article 8(1)(c) of the First Council Directive 89/104/EEC of 21 December 1988 to approximate the laws of the Member States relating to trademarks depends on whether that use is necessary to indicate the intended purpose of a product

Use of the trademark by a third party who is not owner is necessary in order to indicate the intended purpose of a product marketed by that third party where such use in practice constitutes the only means of providing the public with comprehensible and complete information on that intended purpose in order to preserve the undistorted system of competition in the market for that product. It is for the national court to determine whether, in the case in the main proceedings, such use is necessary, taking account of the nature of the public for which the product marketed by the third party in question is intended. Since Article 6(1)(c) of Directive 89/104 makes no distinction between the possible intended purposes of products when assessing the lawfulness of the use of the trademark. The criteria for assessing the lawfulness of the use of the trademark with accessories or spare parts in particular are yhus no different from those applicable to other categories of possible intended purposes for the products.
2. the condition of “honest use” within the meaning of Article 6(1)(c) of Directive 89/104 constitutes in substance the expression of a duty to act fairly in relation to the legitimate interests of the trademark owner. The use of the trade mark will not be in accordance with honest practices in industrial and commercial matters if, for example:

· It is done in such a manner as to give the impression that there is a commercial connection between the third party and the trade mark owner;
· It affects the value of the trademark by taking unfair advantage of it distinctive character or repute;
· It entails the discrediting or denigration of that mark;
· Or where the third party presents its product as an imitation or replica of the product bearing the trademark of which it is not the owner.

The fact that a third party uses a trademark of which it is not the owner in order to indicate the intended purpose of the product which it markets does not necessarily mean that it is presenting it as being of the same quality as, or having equivalent properties to, those of the product bearing the trademark. Whether there has been such presentation depends on the facts of the case, and it is for the referring court to determine whether it has taken place be reference to the circumstances acheter cialis meilleur prix. Whether the product marketed by the third party has been presented as being of the same quality as, or having equivalent properties to, the product whose trademark is being used is a factor which the referring court must take into consideration when it verifies that that use is made in accordance with honest practices in industrial commercial matters.

2. Where a third party that uses a trademark of which it is not the owner markets not only a spare part or an accessory but also the product itself with which spare part or accessory is intended to be used, such use falls within the scope of Article 6(1)(c) of Directive 89/104 in so far as it is necessary to indicate the intended purpose of the product marketed by the latter and is made in accordance with honest practices in industrial and commercial matters.

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