Posts Tagged Trademark

‘Establishment’, jurisdiction and the EU Trademark Regulation: Hummel v Nike.

Jurisdiction in intellectual property cases is notoriously complex and frankly opaque, in the case of the EU exacerbated by the impact of secondary law. My colleague Marie-Christine Janssens has a great overview in the Belgian reports at the Congress of Washington of the International Academy of Comparative Law. Brussels: Bruylant, 611-652.

At stake in C-617/15 Hummel v Nike was Regulation 207/2009, in the meantime superseded by Regulation 2015/2424.  Article 94 of the former, entitled ‘Application of Regulation … No 44/2001’, contains rules on jurisdiction and procedure in legal actions relating to EU trade marks. It states that ‘Unless otherwise specified in this Regulation, Regulation … No 44/2001 shall apply to proceedings relating to [EU] trade marks and applications for [EU] trade marks, as well as to proceedings relating to simultaneous and successive actions on the basis of [EU] trade marks and national trade marks.’ Article 94 essentially varies, to some degree, the jurisdictional rules of the Brussels I (now Recast) Regulation.

Now, what needed specific interpretation was Article 97’s

‘1.      Subject to the provisions of this Regulation as well as to any provisions of Regulation … No 44/2001 applicable by virtue of Article 94, proceedings in respect of the actions and claims referred to in Article 96 shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the defendant is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment. 

2.       If the defendant is neither domiciled nor has an establishment in any of the Member States, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State in which the plaintiff is domiciled or, if he is not domiciled in any of the Member States, in which he has an establishment.

3.      If neither the defendant nor the plaintiff is so domiciled or has such an establishment, such proceedings shall be brought in the courts of the Member State where [EUIPO] has its seat.

More specifically, the notion of ‘establishment’: Under which circumstances is a legally distinct second-tier subsidiary, with its seat in an EU Member State, of an undertaking that itself has no seat in the EU to be considered as an “establishment” of that undertaking.

Nike, which has its seat in the US, is the ultimate holding company of the Nike Group, which sells sports goods across the world. Nike Retail, which has its seat in the Netherlands, also belongs to that group. Nike Retail operates the website on which Nike goods are advertised and offered for sale, in Germany in particular. In addition to online sales on that website, Nike goods are sold in Germany through independent dealers supplied by Nike Retail. Wholesale or retail sales in Germany are not directly conducted by the companies in the Nike Group.

Nike Deutschland GmbH, which has its seat in Frankfurt am Main and is not a party to the main proceedings, is a subsidiary of Nike Retail. Nike Deutschland does not have its own website and does not sell goods to end consumers or intermediaries. However, it negotiates contracts between intermediaries and Nike Retail, and supports Nike Retail in connection with advertising and the performance of contracts. Nike Deutschland also provides aftersales service for end consumers.  Hummel Holding claims that some Nike products, in particular basketball shorts, infringe its trade mark and that most of the infringements took place in Germany. It brought an action against Nike and Nike Retail before the Landgericht Düsseldorf (Regional Court, Düsseldorf, Germany), which ruled that it had jurisdiction on the ground that Nike Deutschland was an establishment of Nike, but dismissed the action on the merits. This judgment is now being appealed.

The CJEU first of all (at 22 ff) warns for caution in the conjoined application of concepts used in both the Trademark Regulation and the Brussels I (Recast). The Trademark Regulation is, so the Court says specifically, lex specialis and one cannot therefore assume the same words mean the same thing. Readers of this blog are aware that I always give the CJEU thumbs-up when it mentions this (such as in Kainz), however the Court itself very regularly ignores its own instruction when the discussion involves the application of Brussels and Rome.

The point of Article 97, the Court notes (at 37) is to ensure that a court within the EU always has jurisdiction to hear and determine cases concerning the infringement and validity of an EU trade mark. In line with the AG’s suggestion the Court consequently opts for a broad interpretation of the concept, holding that the concept requires (1) a certain real and stable presence, from which commercial activity is pursued, as manifested by the presence of personnel and material equipment. (2) In addition, that establishment must have the appearance of permanency to the outside world, such as the extension of a parent body. However what is not required is for that establishment to have legal personality. Third parties must thus be able to rely on the appearance created by an establishment acting as an extension of the parent body. Furthermore and importantly, it is, in principle, irrelevant for the purposes of Article 97(1) of Regulation No 207/2009 whether the establishment thereby determined has participated in the alleged infringement.

A word of warning evidently: given the Court’s emphasis on the context of Article 97, with a view to its wide application, readers must not be tempted to read the judgment’s view on the concept of ‘establishment’ as applying across the board in EU conflicts law, let alone EU law as a whole.

Geert.

 

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No need to feel stunned. The CJEU in Taser.

When my tweets on the CJEU are not followed quickly by a blog post, assume I got snowed under. Or that other developments require more immediate analysis. Taser, Case C-175/15, is easily dismissed perhaps as not all that stunning or shocking (puns abound), yet as often, it is worthwhile highlighting what the case does not answer, rather than what it did elucidate.

Taser International, whose seat is in the United States, entered into two non-exclusive distribution agreements with Gate 4. Under those agreements, Gate 4 and its administrator, Mr Anastasiu, undertook to assign to the other contracting party the Taser International trade marks which they had registered, or for which they had applied for registration, in Romania.

Following Gate 4’s and Mr Anastasiu’s refusal to fulfil that contractual obligation, Taser International brought an action before the District Court, Bucharest. Regardless of the existence in those contracts of clauses conferring jurisdiction on a court situated in the US, Gate 4 and Mr Anastasiu entered an appearance before the Romanian court without challenging its jurisdiction. The Court ordered them to undertake all the formalities necessary for the registration of the assignment.

The appeals court seeks clarification as to whether the Brussels I Regulation is applicable to the dispute before it, since the parties elected, for the resolution of their disputes, the courts of a third country. The referring court considers that such a clause conferring jurisdiction on a third country may, for this reason alone, preclude the tacit prorogation of jurisdiction under Article 24 (Article 26 in the Brussels I Recast)

On the assumption, however, that that latter rule is applicable, the referring court seeks to ascertain whether it should, nevertheless, decline jurisdiction on another ground. It also queried whether the exclusive jurisdictional rules of Article 22 are applicable: does a dispute concerning an obligation to assign a trade mark, likely to result in a registration under national law, fall within paragraph 4 of that article.

The CJEU firstly recalled its finding in C-111/09 CPP Vienna Insurance Group: choice of court made per Article 23 (now Article 25) Brussels I, can be overruled by voluntary appearance. The latter in that case simply acts as an amended choice of court. In Taser (at 24) the court now adds that this applies also if that initial choice of court was made ex-EU. The deliberate, later choice, remains a deliberate choice. The Court makes no reference to discussions e.g.  in the context of Gothaer, whether the Brussels I Regulation at all should be concerned with choice of court ex-EU or should be entirely indifferent. Arguably, in the Recast Regulation, there is consideration for choice of court ex-EU, in particular in recital 24 combined with Article 33.

Intellectual property lawyers will be disappointed with the Court’s answer to the issue of whether trade mark assignment falls within Article 22(4) [now 24(4)]: Romanian courts in any event had jurisdiction. (at 29).

Plenty left open, therefore. Geert.

(Handbook of) European private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, chapter 2, heading 2.2.6.7, heading 2.2.7 .

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ECJ broadly confirms Szpunar AG in Diageo: narrow window for refusal of recognition and enforcement.

As reported when Szpunar AG issued his Opinion, key question in Diageo, Case C-681/13 is whether the fact that a judgment given in the State of origin is contrary to EU law (in the case at issue; trademark law) justifies that judgment’s not being recognised in the State in which recognition is sought, on the grounds that it infringes public policy (‘ordre public’) in that Member State. Precedent for Diageo did not look good and indeed the ECJ on Thursday confirmed the views of its AG.

Where the breach concerns infringement of EU law, the ECJ formulates the test as follows: ‘the public-policy clause would apply only where that error of law means that the recognition of the judgment concerned in the State in which recognition is sought would result in the manifest breach of an essential rule of law in the EU legal order and therefore in the legal order of that Member State’ (at 50). The relevant breach of EU trademark law is simply not in that league (at 51).

The Court does (at 54) seem to suggest – although one has to infer that a contrario – that if one were to show that Member State courts deliberately infringe EU law, even if that EU law is not in the ‘essential’ category, such pattern of national precedent (imposed by the higher courts), could lead to refusal of recognition. However this was not the suggestion made in the case at issue.

Geert.

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Szpunar AG in Diageo confirms narrow window for refusal of recognition and enforcement

Key question in Diageo, Case C-681/13 is whether the fact that a judgment given in the State of origin is contrary to EU law (in the case at issue; trademark law)  justifies that judgment’s not being recognised in the State in which recognition is sought, on the grounds that it infringes public policy (‘ordre public’) in that Member State. Precedent for Diageo did not look good.

‘Public policy in the Member State in which recognition is sought’, is by its very nature a matter for the courts of that Member State to define, however the ECJ has held that the nature of the JR necessarily implies that the ECJ has to exercise a degree of control. It has held that the clause on public policy may be relied on only in exceptional cases. The possibility that the court of the State of origin erred in applying certain rules of EU law, including free movement of goods and competition law, does not qualify as such: per  Case C-126/07 Eco Swiss and Case C-38/98 Renault, that these rules concern Union as opposed to national law, does not as such have an impact on the application of the recognition and enforcement title: Union law needs to be looked at just the same as national or indeed international law.

Szpunar AG refers of course to these judgments, distinguishes them where necessary, and concludes that an error in the application of EU trademark law does not suffice to justify a refusal of recognition. All that is left to Diageo is an action in damages against Bulgaria.

Geert.

 

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The Jurisdiction Regulation, trademarks and the internet – The Court of Justice in Wintersteiger

I have already reported recently on the application of the Brussels I Regulation and the internet [see here for my confused state on the Judgment in ‘G’]. In Wintersteiger (Judgment of 19 April 2012) the applicant is the proprietor of an Austrian trade mark. The defendant was a competitor established in Germany, who had registered Wintersteiger’s name as an AdWord on Google’s German search service. Whence users of google.de entering ‘Wintersteiger’ (looking for that make’s ski and snowboarding service tools) receive a link to Wintersteiger’s website as first search result, but also as the first AdLink on the right hand side of the screen, an advert for and link to the competitor’s website – which Wintersteiger considered an abuse of its trademark.

The case once again raised the question how one applies Article 5(3)’s ‘place where the harmful event occurred’ (since Mines de Potasse split in ‘place where the event giving rise to the damage’ and ‘place where the damage’ occurred as being two alternative connecting factors)  in an internet context.

The judgment of the Court of Justice confirms that the connecting factor ‘centre of interests’ in Kylie Minogue and eDate Advertising only holds for infringement of personality rights in an internet context. Trademark violation is distinguished, on the grounds that rebus sic stantibus intellectual property rights are protected on a territorial basis. The Court confines the ‘place where the damage occurred’ as the Member State in which the trade mark is registered. For the ‘place where the event giving rise to the damage’, the Court upheld ‘place of establishment of the advertiser’ as the jurisdictional basis (the Advocate General’s ‘means necessary for producing, a priori, an actual infringement of a trade mark in another Member State’ is a  more generic criterion however the Court did not uphold this as such).

Precedent value of the judgment may be limited due to the specific facts of the case and the questions put to the Court (for non-EU readers: the Court of Justice practises judicial economy, hence questions not specifically asked are not entertained). In particular, the conclusion may only hold absolutely where there is only one trade mark held, in only one Member State (for EU readers and non-EU readers alike: EU trademark protection is a lot less harmonised than one may have assumed). The referring court moreover did not flag the many issues surrounding provisionary measures and intellectual property rights (see Article 31 of the Regulation and the Opinion of the same AG in Solvay, on which I report here).

Geert.

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