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EU top court steps in over French champagne trademark row

EU top court steps in over French champagne trademark row

by Yannick HANSEN 09.09.2021 From our online archive
Spanish court asked for clarification in trademark row between Champanillo tapas bars and French champagne producers
The European Court of Justice in Kirchberg
The European Court of Justice in Kirchberg
Photo credit: Guy Jallay

A Spanish court will have to decide if tapas bars named Champanillo, displaying an image of two champagne glasses, misleadingly make consumers think of the French champagne trademark, the EU’s Luxembourg-based top court ruled on Thursday.

The Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIVC) – an organisation that safeguards the interests of champagne producers – took Spanish company GB to court in Spain for naming its tapas bars Champanillo - Spanish for "little champagne" – along with an image of two champagne glasses containing a sparkling drink. 

The champagne producers claimed the name and image infringed on the protected designation of origin of champagne - a designation that is only afforded to sparkling wine produced in the French region Champagne.

The Spanish court turned to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg to help reach a judgment.

ECJ judges ruled on Thursday that protected designation of origin does extend to products and services but said the Spanish court must now decide whether the name and image are so misleading that people could be led to think of the original trademark.

It does not need to be identical to the original, but similar enough to cause confusion, the court ruled.

If a name "creates, in the mind of an average European consumer who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect, a sufficiently clear and direct link" between that name and the protected designation of origin, then there would be a trademark infringement.

The ECJ judges referred the case back to the Spanish court to settle.

Two years ago, the ECJ ruled that cheesemakers may not use a picture of Don Quixote on its packaging because it could lead consumers to believe the product is the original Manchego cheese. But owners of the Halloumi trademark’s case was rejected twice, with judges saying it was not likely consumers would confuse the trademark with a Bulgarian look-alike. 

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