Posts Tagged Trademark
Advocate General Szpunar opined end of March in C‑172/18 AMS Neve. The case concerns in essence, in the AG’s words, whether and, if so, under what circumstances, pursuant to Article 97(5) of Regulation 207/2009 on a Community Trade Mark, the person responsible for an alleged infringement, consisting in the advertising and offer for sale of goods bearing a sign which is identical to an EU trade mark on a website, may be sued in the courts of the Member State on whose territory the traders and consumers targeted by that website are situated.
It is clear from the rules on jurisdiction in Regulation 207/2009 on Community trade marks that the EU legislature decided to derogate in part from the rules on jurisdiction in Brussels Ia (these are fully applicable in the case of actions relating to national trade marks).
CJEU authority is varied (Case C-324/09, L’Oréal, which concerns the territorial scope of the EU’s trademark laws and revolves around websites ‘targeting’ consumers as opposed to merely being accessible to them, is a clear precedent; as is Wintersteiger; Hejduk; Pinckney; Football Dataco) but difficult to apply for all of them are so easily distinguishable: various intellectual property rights are at issue; some of them EU-wide granted, others only local; precedent on online activity generally such as Pammer /Alpenhof, ‘G’ etc. do not have the IPR context,….
The Advocate General does a highly commendable job (in my classes I tend to make things easy for myself on this section by mumbling something like ‘it’s complicated’; ‘you need to know your intellectual property rights’; and ‘there are so many rules in the secondary law on IPR’) in distinguishing and untangling authority, and he focuses his analysis on the issue of ‘targeting’. Those with an interest in IPR litigation had best read the Opinion in full.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Heading 188.8.131.52.5; Heading 184.108.40.206.4 (quoted by the AG in current Opinion).
Glaxo Welcome v Sandoz et al  EWHC 3229 (Ch), puts the spotlight on an important part of international forum shopping, namely discovery /disclosure, in particular collateral use of document obtained in one jurisdiction, in litigation in another. What is fundamentally at stake is that the launch of proceedings in a discovery friendly jurisdiction, may be simply employed as a jack for obtaining evidence to be used in a discovery-heavy jurisdiction. (A few months back the principles were also applied in Buzzfeed v Gubarev  EWHC 1201 (QB)
Claimants apply for an order permitting the second claimant to use certain documents disclosed by some of the defendants (“the Sandoz Defendants”) in the claim in the English courts, in a claim in Belgium between the second claimant and Sandoz NV (“Sandoz Belgium”). The two claims are part of global litigation between members of the GlaxoSmithKline and Sandoz groups of companies. In Europe there are claims in several jurisdictions including England and Wales, The Republic of Ireland, Germany, The Netherlands and Belgium. The disclosure exercise between the claimants and the Sandoz Defendants has been very substantial. It involved the Sandoz Defendants reviewing 406,300 documents using 50 legally qualified reviewers. This led to the subsequent disclosure of slightly in excess of 75,000 documents to the claimants.
As Marsh CM notes at 11, ‘There is a marked contrast in the manner in which litigation is conducted in England and Wales on the one hand and Belgium (and most other Civil law countries) on the other hand. In England and Wales, the ability to obtain disclosure that is adverse to the other party’s claim is an important feature of litigation. However, the evidence provided in connection with the application shows that disclosure is only available in a very limited form in Belgium. One of the issues to be determined is whether disclosure obtained in this jurisdiction should be made available to a party that is engaged in litigation in a jurisdiction where disclosure, if not unknown, is very limited in scope.’
He is of course spot on: obtaining relevant documentation from the other party is not easily done in Belgium (and elsewhere) and often needs to be deduced from final filings of submissions or indeed at the hearing stage.
Relevant authority is discussed at 22 ff., and is really quite relevant: the discussion shows among others great consideration of rule of law concerns, mutual trust between EU Member States and Council of Europe parties, and the relevance of applicable law in the assessment (at 22(5): ‘The Belgian Claim proceeds under harmonised EU law as set out in the Trade Mark Directive. It follows that the English court is in a better position to consider initial relevance of the documents to the issues in the Belgian Claim than would be the case were the claim to be one brought under domestic Belgian law’).’
Final conclusion is in favour of collateral use of a substantial amount of documents. It is worth copying Marsh CM’s reasons in full: at 60:
(1) The parties to this claim, and associated companies, are engaged in litigation on a very wide scale in many jurisdictions. They are part of very substantial businesses with equal resources. There is no suggestion that the application is oppressive.
(2) Although the legal basis for this claim and the Belgian Claim are markedly different, there are similarities between some of the issues that are engaged.
(3) The claimants have been able to satisfy the court that the majority of the documents they seek to use are likely to be relevant to the Belgian Claim. The interests of justice would therefore militate in favour of the claimants having an opportunity to obtain advice about their use in the Belgian Claim.
(4) Use of the documents to enable the second claimant to consider whether, having obtained advice, a claim against additional parties should be pursued is, to my mind, more compelling than use of documents in connection with the Belgian Claim. There are no risks of adversely affecting the existing proceedings. The court should be slow to stand in the way of a party who wishes to obtain advice about pursuing a lawful course of action.
(5) There is now an agreed procedure for the orderly progress of the appeal in Brussels with the second claimant filing an additional brief followed by Sandoz Belgium. The disruption, if any, by the introduction of additional documents has been minimised.
(6) The number of documents the claimants seek to use is relatively small. Those that may be used in the Belgian Claim are not disproportionate in volume to what is at stake in those proceedings. There is no real danger that the Belgian Claim will be overwhelmed with additional documents even if all of them are deployed and Sandoz Belgium considers it is necessary to file additional documents to counter documents having been ‘cherry picked’ by the claimants.
(7) The difference of approach between litigation in England and Belgium is a factor, but one of limited weight. There is no suggestion that the use of documents obtained in disclosure is an abuse of this court’s process. The risk of the Belgian Court’s process being subverted by the introduction of disclosure documents is marginal, particularly bearing in mind the involvement of the Belgian lawyers and the procedure that has been agreed.
(8) I accept Mr Hickman’s submission in relation to the documents exhibited to Morris 7. The documents that are exhibited were extensively discussed in the witness statement which was read by the Deputy Judge. Although the claimants do not make an application for a declaration that they are permitted to use those documents as of right, the documents have been legitimately deployed for the purposes of an application heard in open court (subject only to the pro tem confidentiality order).
(9) It is not open to the Sandoz Defendants to say, and they have not submitted, that if the order permitting use of the documents is made, their position in the Belgian Claim is prejudiced, in the sense that the likelihood of them successfully prosecuting the claim and/or defending the counterclaim is reduced. The interests of justice require that material which is likely to be relevant should be permitted for proper purposes. A reduction in their prospects of success is an immaterial consideration in their favour and, if anything, it weighs in the balance in favour of the claimant.
The precise application of the Brussels I Recast’s exclusive jurisdictional rules, remains a balancing exercise. Being an exception to the Regulation’s’ overall preference for the domicile of the defendant, they have to be given a narrow reading. On the other hand, they serve what the Regulation sees as being important purposes of preference of one particular jurisdiction over another, hence the exception cannot be so narrowly construed as to lose purpose. In C-341/16 Hanssen, the CJEU held last week and confirmed Saugmansgaard ØE AG’s Opinion of the summer.
Does an action seeking an order requiring the person formally registered as proprietor of a Benelux mark to make a declaration to the OBPI that she has no entitlement to the mark and that she waives registration as the proprietor of that mark, fall within the scope of Article 24(4) of Brussels I Recast? No, it does not: the main proceedings in this case do not relate to the validity, existence or lapse of the trade mark or an alleged right of priority by reason of an earlier deposit. They are solely concerned with whether the proprietor of the contested mark is Ms Prast-Knipping or Hanssen Beleggingen, which must be determined on the basis of the legal relationship existing between the parties concerned: Hanssen Beleggingen submits that, as a result of a chain of transfers of the contested mark, it has become the actual proprietor of the rights to the contested mark. Existence etc. of the trademark is not at issue.
The question of the individual estate to which an intellectual property right belongs is not, generally, closely linked in fact and law to the place where that right has been registered (at 37): hence the raison d’être of Article 24(4) is not engaged.
(Handbook of) EU private international law, 2nd ed. 2016, Chapter 2, Heading 2.2.6, Heading 220.127.116.11
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.
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 18.104.22.168, heading 2.2.7 .
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.
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.