Lyle & Scott v American Eagle. The High Court holds the applicable law for passing off does not fly under IPR wings.

Lyle & Scott Ltd v American Eagle Outfitters, Inc [2021] EWHC 90 (Ch) entertains ia the question whether the governing law for passing-off claims involving an eagle trademark, fall under Article 6 or 8 Rome II. The application is for an earlier order allowing service of jurisdiction, to be set aside.

Parties had agreed a ‘memorandum’ (which may or may not be a ‘contract’ – it is further referred to in the judgment as a ‘contract’) following a disagreement on whether each corporation’s eagle (L&S’s being trademarked in the UK and various EU Member States; AEO’s not being trademarked here, I understand) incorporated in apparel involved infringement of trademark and passing off.

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AEO are domiciled in the US  and have no physical presence in the UK (or, one assumes, anywhere in the EU (the litigation was initiated pre-Brexit); their apparel is offered via online sales.

Jurisdiction is decided on the basis of the laws of E&W. Applicable law comes into the discussion for per Lord Mance at 46 in VTB v Nutritek,

“The governing law, which is here English, is in general terms, a positive factor in favour of trial in England, because it is generally preferable, other things being equal, that a case should be tried in the country whose law applies. However, that factor is of particular force if issues of law are likely to be important and if there is evidence of relevant differences in the legal principles or rules applicable to such issues in the two countries in contention as the appropriate forum…”.

Miles J discusses the governing law issue at 64 ff. Claimant argue the claim comes under A8 Rome II: infringement of intellectual property rights, English law, lex loci protectionis. Defendants argue they fall under A4 (by way of A6(2): Act of unfair competition), and that A4(3) is engaged to make the applicable law that of the state of Pennsylvania, because of the ‘contractual’ relationship.

At 72 Miles J agrees with the classification under A6, holding ia that ‘(t)he cause of action protects the goodwill of traders against deceptive conduct; goodwill is not an intellectual property right; and passing off is not the infringement of a right.’ Unlike the judge I do not think Rome II’s recital is of much help here and I suspect more can be made of the comparative law insights (common law and civil law) offered.

The next question is whether the claim falls within A6 (2). In Miles J’s succinctly expressed view it does, at 73: ‘The act of unfair competition alleged (passing off) affects exclusively the interests of a specific competitor (L&S). It follows that Art. 4 applies.’ As I have often noted, I find it very difficult to think of acts of unfair competition do not ultimately also impact the consumers of those involved.

The final hurdle then is whether A4(3) is engaged to displace E&W law as the lex loci damni, which at 75 the judge holds is not the case. Parties have not agreed on a governing law for the ‘contract’, they have conducted previous proceedings on the basis of that law being the laws of Pennsylvania. However even if the lex contractus is probably Penn law, and English law probably the lex causae for the passing off claim, Miles J holds this should not have an impact at the jurisdictional level: particularly seeing as there is no immediate reason to assume E&W courts will have great difficulty in applying Penn law to what on the contractual substance does not seem an overly complicated case.

Application dismissed, service out of jurisdiction stands.

This case once again highlights the level of complication resulting from having inserted different heads of applicable law into Rome II – a phenomenon which as I recently reported, might soon be expanded upon.

Geert.

EU private international law, 3rd ed. 2021, Chapter 4, Heading 4.5.2, 4.6.2, 4.6.4.

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