The Court of Rome affirms its jurisdiction in a torpedo case

In a post of some months ago, after noting that none of the torpedoes launched in Italy after the Asclepion ruling [Italian Court of Cassation, 10 June 2013, no. 14508, in Giur. ann. dir. ind., 2013 (for a full English translation, see IIC, 2014, pp. 822 ff.)] had been successful, we envisaged a possible end to the Italian torpedo story. A recent decision of the Court of Rome shows, however, that the end is yet to come. In a non-infringement action brought against an Austrian patentee (and two other defendants, also from Austria) with regard to the Italian part and several foreign parts of a European patent, the Court of Rome firmly stated that

the Italian courts have jurisdiction … for the French, German, Austrian and UK parts of the patent, on the basis of art. 5.3, EU Council Regulation 44/2001 of 22 December 2000, whereby the courts for the place where the harmful event occurred or may occur have jurisdiction, and on the basis of art. 27 of the Regulation, concerning jurisdiction for related actions”.

The brief reasoning of the decision (full text, in Italian) exclusively stems from a quotation of the Asclepion ruling of the Court of Cassation mentioned above. With regard to this ruling and its impact on torpedo actions (as well as for a review of the most recent decisions issued in Italy on the topic), we refer to the considerations already made here.

Court of Rome, 5 February 2018, Anki v. Stadlbauer 

The Court of Rome orders a mother to stop publishing on social networks contents relating her underage son

With the countdown to the GDPR almost at its end, this interim order from the Court of Rome (full Italian text here) has been largely debated in Italy in the last days.

These are the facts, in sum:

  • During a divorce proceedings, a mother has been publishing on social networks many photos, videos, posts relating this lawsuit, including information about her son – a 16 years old guy;
  • The son was really frustrated by this situation. Details about him were constantly disseminated on social networks by his mother and his history – in all details – became known to all his schoolmates. He started suffering serious psychological effects – particularly he was scared of being discriminated and considered “different” by his mates due to his private “issue”.
  • For this reason, the guardian of the son (previously appointed in another proceedings) asked the Court to confirm his right to attend a US college to get a new life far away from this nasty situation.

In the interim injunction, the Court ordered:

(i) the mother to stop publishing on social networks and any other media, images, information and any other data relating her son, (ii) to remove all these contents published so far on social networks; additionally the Court (iii) fixed a monetary sanction for any violation of these orders.

(iv) the guardian of the son to ask search engines to de-list and social networks to remove all images, information and any data relating the young guy.

The interim decision is of course reasonable. The Court has not relied on a particular legal qualification of the matter, however apparently based on general civil law principles considering psychological damages suffered by the young guy. Thus the decision seems to refer to a general right to privacy (even before considering a question of fair processing of personal data).

The case confirms how social networks can be risky for our privacy due to their media massive effect. A part from this specific case, we should wonder about possible negative consequences of posting certain contents about third parties, that we might not foresee. This is particularly true for underage people, where particular attention is to be paid to their privacy – also in the long term (for a view on the possible negative consequences of parental oversharing, see for example here: ‘it’s difficult for an individual to control that information once it’s out there. When it comes to our children, we’re making the decision to put things out on their behalf, and what seems appropriate now may not be appropriate in ten years’ time’).

Even before the GDPR, the EU data protection legislation required consent for publishing contents about third parties on social media, with some exception as in case of news reporting (that remains mostly a matter of national law). But not – of course – if it is a parent publishing data about his/her underage son. The GDPR is now paying new attention to:

(i) the processing of data of underage people (Recitals 38, 58, 65, 71, 75) – the GDPR requires parental consent for the use of information technology services (Art. 8). Although limited to this type of services, it sets the legal age for data protection choices (i.e., a “digital consent”) at 16 years old (there is some flexibility for national legislation, but this age cannot be below 13 years). If this applies also to the exercise of privacy rights is difficult to say (Recital 65 seems to confirm this option) and it shall probably consider national legislation as well. Recital 38 states that consent by a parent or guardian is not required in the context of preventive or counselling services offered directly to a child. For example, the provision of child protection services offered online to a child by means of an online chat service does not require prior parental authorization, clarifies the WP29 Guidelines on Consent under the GDPR (here).

(ii) the risk of discrimination – a risk we should often consider in certain personal data processing operations (we have discussed this aspect in relation to profiling activities here).

Francesco Banterle

Court of Rome – Judge Monica Velletti – order 23 December 2017


New French law on retouching advertising images of fashion models

Last year, France enacted a new legislation (Law no. 2016-41 on the modernisation of our health system dated January 26, 2017, which came into force on January 1st, 2017) with the aim to encourage more socially responsible ads and avoid the use of artificially thin images of fashion models, whose view may induce eating disorders amongst teenage.

Article L. 2133-2 of the French Public Health Code (FPHC), as introduced by the new law, provides that “Photographs for commercial purposes of models whose physical appearance has been altered by an image processing software in order to slim or to thicken the model’s figure shall be accompanied by the words “photographie retouchée”.

Moreover, article R. 2133-6 of the FPHC burdens the advertiser with a best-efforts obligation to verify that the commercial photographs that he buys directly or through different service providers have not been modified by image processing softwares.

Only the modifications of silhouettes that affect the model’s weight seem to be concerned by the new rule.

The modalities of implementation of this new obligation have been specified by a Decree (Decree n°2017-738 of 4 May 2017 relating to photographs for commercial use of models whose appearance has been modified), that came into force on October 1st, 2017.

The Decree states that the mention “photographie retouchée” must be 
affixed in: “an accessible, easily legible and clearly differentiated way from the advertising or promotional message. The presentation of messages shall respect the rules and use of best practices as defined by the profession, notably by the Professional Advertising Regulatory Authority (ARPP)”.

Until now, the ARPP has only provided unofficial guidance on how and where the mention “photographie retouchée” should be affixed (at the “Réunion ARPP d’échanges et de lecture commune consacrée au Décret n° 2017-738 du 4 mai 2017” as of July 4, 2017) (link).

Without any clear guideline from the Regulator, nor settled market practices or court’s ruling, there is a high degree of uncertainty among the stakeholders over the correct way to comply with the law.

It follows from the wording of the law that the mention “photographie retouchée” should be (i) of sufficient size, (ii) of a colour contrasting with those used in the background and (iii) not drowned among other mentions.

Neither the Law nor the Decree lay down clear provisions on where exactly the mention must be displayed (on the photograph itself, near the product description or as a disclaimer on the bottom of the brand’s website). Given this lack of specifications, positioning the disclaimer on the photograph itself appears to be the safest solution to comply with the Regulation, while the only use of a general notice at the bottom of the webpage might be enough only if a clear reference to the relevant photos concerned is provided thanks to an asterisk or another pictogram (except maybe in the case that all photographs are retouched).

This new obligation applies to “photographs for commercial purposes” published through all types of media (cf. article R. 2133-4 of the FPHC which provides for a non-exhaustive list of media, including press or online publications, e-commerce marketplaces, social networks’ posts, printed ads, newsletter or correspondence), except for videos and television ads.

The Regulation does not specify the territorial scope of the rule. A cautious approach would be to assume that it applies to photographs that are accessible by French consumers. Indeed, it is settled case-law that national law applies if a violation is committed through a website available in the country of reference or otherwise addressing its audience, being irrelevant the place where the servers are located or where the company is registered (CA Paris, 19 March 2010, PIBD n°920 III p.391; TGI Paris, 6 December 2012, n°10/12560; Cour de cassation, Chambre commerciale, 17 January 2012, n°10-27311).

The Decree provides that responsible for complying with the duty of disclosure is the “advertiser” (“Annonceur”). Failure to comply with the Regulation can be sanctioned by a fine up to € 37,500, the amount of which may be increased up to 30% of the advertising expenses. No definition of “advertising expenses” is provided nor the Regulation specifies if this fine applies to each non-compliant photograph. However, it may be expected that judges shall apply the sanction once only for the entire offense and not for each challenged photograph. In this way, it would appear reasonable that the “30 percent of the cost of creating the advertisement” shall be calculated on all the expenses incurred in connection with the contentious advertising campaign.

Similar provisions exist from 2012 in Israel (Weight Limitation in the Modelling Industry Act, colloquially referred to as the “Model Act” or the “Photoshop™ Act”). Such law also prohibits advertisements which display fashion models (both male and female) who are underweight in accordance with measuring formulas (namely, the Body Mass Index) provided by the law.

In Italy, although we don’t have a rule specifically requiring this kind of disclosure when a model’s general appearance is altered, Article 10 of the Italian Self-regulatory Code of Marketing Communication (link) provides that marketing communication should respect human dignity in every form and expression. Moreover, Article 12 establishes that marketing communication should not contain representations that may lead consumers to be less cautious than usual or less watchful and responsible towards their own health and safety. These provisions remind to be careful when using the body image which is likely to cause pressure to conform to an unrealistic or unhealthy body shape, or which are likely to create body confidence issues, particularly among young people (cf. decisions 121/2007 or 6/2002).

Jacopo Ciani

Read More »

First results of the public consultation on revision of the EU Database Directive

Last 6 October, the European Commission published the first results of the public consultation on revision of the Database Directive 96/9/EC (here) that took place between 24 May and 30 August 2017 (here).

Among the various initiatives to foster European data economy, the European Commission is conducting an ex-post evaluation of the Database Directive. In its view, the Directive should play a key role in increasing legal certainty for database makers and users, and enhancing the re-use of data.

There is however little evidence regarding the application and effects of the Directive. The previous report published in 2005 concluded that “the economic impact of the ‘sui generis’ right on database production is unproven” (here). The 2005 Report (not really positive) invited for more analysis on the Directive’s effects.

After more than 10 years, where the CJEU had to clarify the boundaries of the sui generis right, the aim of the consultation is “to understand how the Database Directive, and in particular the sui generis protection of databases, is used, to evaluate its impact on users and to identify possible needs of adjustment”.

The European Commission asked in particular if:

  1. by creating the sui generis right, the Directive has protected investment in the creation updating or maintenance of a database
  2. the Directive is encouraging investments in advances information processing systems
  3. the Directive reached a good balance between interest of rightholders and users
  4. the Directive has achieved harmonisation
  5. national contract law give more legal certainty than sui generis protection when it comes to prevention of extracting or re-using database content
  6. the Directive still fit for purpose in an increasingly data driven economy

Respondents were a mix of business, academics/research institutions, trade associations, and non-governmental organizations.

At a first glance views are divided, particularly in relation to whether [I have tried to count the answers, including the report of the anonymous replies, taking aside hesitant positions – so apologies for any inaccuracy]:

  • the Directive sufficiently protects investments in creating databases (II.2.1) – pro: 45 / contra 25
  • the Directive has achieved its objective to protect and stimulate a wide variety of databasesand innovation in advanced processing systems (II.2.2) – pro: 38/ contra 39, and development of the data market (II.3.9) – pro: 39/ contra 39
  • the current scope of the sui generisright is still satisfactory (III.5.1) pro (satisfactory – too narrow): 42 / contra (too broad – unclear): 53
  • the original objectives of the Directive are still in line with the needs of the EU (III.1) – pro: 53/ contra 39
  • the Directive is coherent with the EU Data Economy Package objectives (III.4.4) pro: 27 / contra: 34
  • the sui generis right has brought more legal certainty for database makers (II.3.1) – pro: 43 / contra: 42, and lawful users (II.3.2) – pro: 38 / contra: 47
  • the Directive achieves a good balance between interests of rightholders and users (II.2.4) – pro: 32 / contra 49
  • the Directive had a positive effect on (i) access to data (II.3.5) – pro 29 / contra (negative or no effect) 57; or (ii) re-use of data (II.3.6) – pro: 30 / contra (negative or no effect) 51
  • national case law gives more legal certainty than the sui generis right (II.2.6) – pro: 30 / contra: 35
  • whether the Directive still fit for purpose in an increasingly data driven economy (2g) – pro: 36 / contra: 47
  • whether the restriction drawn by the CJEU on the scope of the sui generis right (i.e., no protection of the investment made in the creation of data) had positive effect on the scope of the protection of database (III.9.1) – pro: 33 / contra: 27
  • The sui generis right should apply to databases which contain automatically collected and/or machine-generated data (III.10.2) – pro: 20 / contra: 36

As said, opinions are divided, although at a first glance, the general outcome seems not very positive.

It is difficult to foresee which adjustments the European Commission is willing to propose, if any. It is known that the introduction of the sui generis right has been largely criticized (going in the opposite direction than that endorsed by Feist in the US). And it does not seem that any other country has been inspired by and replicated our EU database protection system. Both the 2005 evaluation and this public consultation highlighted that the subject matter and the extension of the sui generis right are often unclear. Indeed, the CJEU intervention has been necessary to limit an excessive extension and the possibility to protect the investments in the creation of data (only those relating collection, verification and presentation of data can be protected – see here and here). However, the points raised in this consultation seem to suggest that the European Commission is trying to question the CJEU approach. The European Commission indeed has inquired about the respondents’ approval of the CJEU interpretation (to ask whether they would instead include also the creation of data under the database right) and whether businesses have appetite to explore the extension of rights also in non-personal raw data (machine generated data), at the moment excluded by the scope of the database right (that requires the investment in the “organization” of data – i.e., the contrary of “raw” data). Thus it seems that apparently the goal is finding confirmations from the market to legitimize a stronger legislative approach to data.

As a confirmation, the European Commission has already launched at least two other recent consultations about the opportunity to strengthen the legislative approach to data, respectively in (i) 2016, see the “Synopsis report – public consultation on the regulatory environment for data and cloud computing”, of 12 May 2016 here at § 4.2.4.; and (ii) in 2017, see the “Synopsis report – public consultation on building a European data economy, of 7 September 2017, here, at p. 5. However, the answer of the market seems always the same: the data value chains are extremely varied, making it difficult to design one-size-fits-all solutions, and freedom of contract should prevail (see here for our comments against the introduction of new exclusive rights in data).

Instead, adjustment can be introduced in the boundaries of the exclusive given by the sui generis right, such as the concept of “substantiality” of the extraction/re-use (Art. 7 of the Database Directive) and – above all – exceptions. Exceptions – especially those for research – should be made mandatory and not optional (see Articles 6.2 and 9 of Database Directive). In this regard, it should also be advisable to introduce the Text and Data Mining (TDM) exception suggested by the DSM Copyright Directive Proposal (see our comments here). However, we repeat that the new exception should allow also TDM for commercial purposes although based on compensation (paying access), in order to stimulate auto-regulation and new access schemes. TDM is not competing with the exploitation of the original database (in line with Art. 8.2 of the Database Directive) and seems instead a good mechanism to ensure flexibility and open data (that is a real instrument to foster a European data market).

In any case, the public consultation should push the European Commission to analyze the economic impact of the ‘sui generis’ right, in order to justify its stay in the EU acquis. We will keep monitoring the next communications from the European Commission on this issue.

Francesco Banterle

May #hashtags safely rely on trademark protection?

In recent years, trademark offices worldwide have been assisting to a new trend: brand owners are increasingly trying to protect hashtags as trademarks. However, some substantive differences existing between these two figures suggest that trademark protection is most of the time improper – and even unnecessary. This, for a number of reasons.

  1. A hashtag can be defined as the symbol # followed by a word, a phrase or a symbol. Hashtags are used on social media in connection to a certain content to synthetically describe or comment it. They were firstly introduced on Twitter, then the main other social networks followed. It must be emphasized, even for legal purposes, that they are freely usable by anyone.


Technically, the social network indexes and groups all the contents using the same hashtag. Hashtags function as hyperlinks: by clicking on a single hashtag, the user is redirected to a page where all the contents using the same hashtag have been grouped and organized together by the social network.

From a consumers’ view, hashtags are helpful in following topics and finding contents. From a brand’s view, they are useful to control and attract online consumer traffic and enhance the brand appeal. In particular, hashtags are used in advertising campaigns to redirect users to the company website and social networks, where the consumer experience can be enhanced and the brand loyalty reinforced. From a social network’s view, they are a new way of organizing information and topics.

  1. Let’s come to trademarks. As known, besides their essential legal function of indicating the origin of the product or service covered by the trademark, they can perform, if famous (“with reputation”) other factual functions, such as that of ‘guaranteeing’ the quality of a product or service, or that of supporting advertising of, and investment on, the ‘brand’. However, it must be noted that quite often hashtags are not perceived as trademarks, as they do not perform any of the above functions.

Focusing on the distinctive function, if a sign does not have distinctive character the trademark owner shall retain its exclusive right only by proving that the sign has acquired – typically by strong advertising – a ‘secondary meaning’ – i.e.- the capacity to identify, in the eyes of consumers, the product or service as originating from a firm.

Now, as concerns hashtags, it seems all too evident that, except when the word component is wholly or in part of coincident with a trademark already known on the market (e.g. #cokecanpicks or #CokeZeroSugar, as in the below example), it is indeed hard to say that a hashtag is inherently distinctive: in such cases, it would be normally necessary to prove secondary meaning to secure a valid registration.


In this respect, hashtags shall be considered as a mix of domain names and slogans. As for the top level domain names such as “.com” or “.it”, the symbol “#” is considered as not capable of conferring to the sing any distinctive value. Therefore, if the word or the phrase composing a hashtag are not per se distinctive, the presence of the symbol # cannot save the trademark from being prevented registration for lacking of distinctive character. On the other hand, hashtags are often composed by small phrases and shall, therefore, be compared to slogans. As for slogans, the proof of the existence of a distinctive character is more difficult than for ordinary trademarks, as slogans are usually not perceived as source indicators. Against this background, it seems more efficient to try to secure registration to a phrase or word, and not to the same in the form of a hashtag.

Further, their functional character may prevent hashtags registration as trademarks. The functionality doctrine, based on the ‘imperative of availability’ (“the need to keep free”, “Freihaltebeduerfnis”) prevents to use trademark law for inhibiting legitimate competition by allowing a single company to claim a monopoly either on a descriptive term or a useful product feature. And a product feature is considered functional if it is essential to the use or purpose of a good. Now, as hinted, hashtags function as hyperlinks and tags, to group contents. This function is essential for their success.

In the light of the considerations just submitted registering a hashtag as trademark could be quite difficult. That said, provided that a company succeeds in obtaining trademark registration, its enforcement towards third parties could be difficult for a number of reasons:

a) in most cases, hashtags are not perceived as trademarks. As said, they are typically a form of metadata or tag, through which a word or a phrase becomes a searchable expression on a social network. On the one hand, therefore, it is inevitably that the hashtag registered as trademark is used by all social network users willing to do so. Such users would likely not perceive the hashtag as a trademark, a source indicator, but more likely as a descriptive text or as a tool having a specific function.

Obviously, though, trademark owners have an interest to control the use of their hashtag, if registered as trademark, in order to protect it from dilution and/or consumer confusion with a similar trademark. Here lies one of the most strident paradoxes of hashtag registration as trademarks: as trademark registrants, hashtag owners are encouraged to enjoin unauthorized third parties from using their registered sign. At the same time, it is their interest to encourage social network users to make use of the hashtag for commercial benefits — expand brand awareness, ‘lock in’ consumers, and so on. More precisely, brand owners use hashtags in social media contexts for marketing purposes, often in a way that results detrimental to their distinctive character (and, as a consequence, to their possible enforcement). They convert the hashtag into a means through which the public is encouraged to comment, share and ‘talk’ about the brand and its products or service, while gathering information and data about consumers tastes, preferences and so on. Thus, again, notwithstanding a possible registration, even registered hashtags are hardly used as indicators of origin, but merely as collectors of data and comments (of course not possibly subject to any monopoly).

b) Even when hashtags are used and perceived as trademarks, descriptive use, functionality, legitimate use play in most cases play a crucial role in excluding the existence of a trademark infringement.

Here, the constitutionally ranking principle of freedom of expression would play a role in determining where there is a legitimate use of a hashtag. If people are encouraged to use a hashtag to get involved in a topic and participate to a discussion, their use of the hashtag, as such, shall be considered indeed legitimate under the principle of freedom of expression.

c) Therefore, the sole relevant case when the use of hashtags could be protected under trademark law seems that of competitors adopting hashtags confusingly similar to a hashtag that includes (or corresponds to) a registered trademark. This position seems reflected by the main social networks policies, preventing the use of third parties trademarks when such use creates confusions for consumers.

But even in such a case, there is room to affirm that the use of an identical or similar hashtag by a competitor is legitimate. Considering that the hashtag is a means to tag and categorize contents, the well-known case law on keyword advertising could well apply to a third party use of a registered hashtag. In this context, if the use a third party hashtag by a competitor enhances competition and offers consumes an alternative or a wider range of offer, this use could be considered fair according to the keyword advertising case law.

One last remark. Trademark law is just one of several laws that are relevant to the use of hashtags. Among others, privacy law, consumer law, licensing, image rights and advertising are strictly connected to hashtags use and shall be carefully considered by all users adopting hashtags.

Maria Luigia Franceschelli

The relevance of profit for the qualification of an act of communication to the public according to the Italian Court of Frosinone

The decision of the Court of Frosinone, published on February 2017 (available here), relies on a criminal investigation carried out by the Italian Tax Police earlier in 2014 against several websites that shared protected contents without the authorization of the right holders. Among these websites, there was also

The users of were allowed to access without right holders’ consent a large number of movies and TV series through hyperlinks posted on the website. However, before being able to check the list of links that redirected to other websites, users were forced to see advertising banners.

The Italian Tax Police initially requested the Review Court of Rome, competent to rule on precautionary measures, to grant the preventive seizure of the website to exclude any further access to the infringing material. Other than expected, the Court rejected the request considering that the information insofar collected by the Tax Police was insufficient to prove the capacity of the advertising banners to produce profit in favor of the website’s holder, considering the profit purpose crucial to grant any precautionary measure against

Following further investigations, the Tax Police found out that after the first instance request, the websites and the affiliated websites and, automatically redirected to the website According to the Tax Police, it was highly reasonable that all the domains were managed by the same person (‘s holder), who set the redirection to bypass any possible block applied against and the other affiliated websites.

The evidence presented before the Prefecture of Frosinone in the administrative proceedings was instead considered sufficient by the Judge to issue a fine of Euros 546,528.69 according to Article 171-ter, para. 2, letter a-bis of the Italian Copyright Act (which punishes everyone who “In violation of art. 16 of the Copyright Act, for profit, communicates to the public a copyright-protected work or part of it, by entering it into a system of telematic networks, by means of connections of any kind”).

The infringer appealed the administrative sanction before the Court of Frosinone which overruled the Prefecture’s decision. According to the Court the Italian Copyright Act requires the unauthorized communication to the public to be performed for profit, namely the intention to gain a consistent economic advantage or patrimonial increase from the infringer’s illegal conduct. It follows that the hyperlinker cannot be sanctioned for the sole act of linking to unauthorized protected material, but it is necessary that this leads to a considerable economic benefit.

In the case at stake, the evidence collected was deemed not sufficient to prove that the creator of,, and was obtaining any significant profit from his/her activity.

The Court of Frosinone has been one of the first in Italy to deal with the linking issue after the CJEU recent cases (particularly Svensson, GS Media and more recently the Pirate Bay case).

The meaning of “profit” – and the possibility to detect the existence of such purpose – assumes in the case at stake a prominent relevance. The same factor has been considered also in the CJEU case law, leading to different conclusions.

In the GS Media case (available here), the CJEU did not clarify what should be intended as “lucrative purpose”, though the Court specified that the presence of the profit intention is relevant to determine whether the conduct of the hyperlinker amounts to an “act of communication to the public”. In fact, in case hyperlinking is made for profit it must be assumed that it has been made following previous controls, from which the hyperlinker should have verified that the work in question is not unlawfully published on the site to which those hyperlinks refer. Even though no lucrative purpose is detected, hyperlinking can still be considered an “act of communication to the public” if the hyperlinker is aware – or should have been reasonably aware – of the fact that said work had been published on the Internet without authorization. In the GS Media case the CJEU asserted that a profit purpose existed. But the absence of lucrative purpose would not have directly led to the exclusion of the hyperlinker’s liability: it would have just implied the need for further evidence (based on the awareness criterion).

In the Pirate Bay case (available here) the EU Court stated: “there can be no dispute that the making available and management of an online sharing platform, such as that at issue in the main proceedings, is carried out with the purpose of obtaining profit therefrom, it being clear from the observations submitted to the Court that that platform generates considerable advertising revenues”. In this case, the presence of the profit intention is strictly connected to the fact that the hyperlinker was obtaining “considerable advertising revenues” from its activity, in a way which highly resembles the case held before the Court of Frosinone. Indirect income, such as the one obtained from the advertising banners, might be qualified as source of profit in the way intended by the CJEU in the Pirate Bay case. Moving from this decision, the Court of Frosinone might have qualified the profit incoming from the advertising banners, placed on the websites under investigation, as sufficient to consider fulfilled the requirement prescribed by Article 171-ter of the Italian Copyright Act.

The other way around, the Italian Court seems to have considered that the investigation did not provided enough evidence to prove that the infringer gained an economic benefit from his/her conduct. Without clarifying if, in the Court’s view, this circumstance relied on the impossibility to qualify the advertising banners as a source of profit or, conversely, on the inability to prove that the economic advantage gained was “considerable” (that is the term used by the Court). Such consideration would require assessing when the economic benefit can be deemed “considerable” within the scope of the Italian Copyright Law, in contrast with Article 171-ter which refers only to the profit intention itself regardless any quantification.

The above considerations remain however unanswered since the decision does not share any in depth reasoning about the grounds on which the Court ruled, probably without taking into consideration to the CJEU caselaw.

Miriam Loro Piana

Court of Frosinone, docket No. 1766/2015, 7 February 2017, Unknown vs Prefecture of Frosinone (Judge Gemma Carlomusto)


The EU General Court dismissed an action to invalidate a Registered Community Design held by Nike for electronic wristbands.

In 2012, Nike registered successfully a Community Design for an electronic wristband. One year later, Mr. Murphy filed for a declaration of invalidity of Nike’s design on the basis of a prior registered design for “Flexible LCD watch bands”.

murplhy design.jpgwristband.jpg

Mr. Murphy argued that Nike design infringed Article 6(1)(b) of the Community Designs Regulation, submitting that it lacked individual character as the overall impression on the informed user did not differ from that produced by Murphy’s prior design.

Neither the Invalidity Division of the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) nor the EUIPO Board of Appeal agreed with Mr. Murphy.

The case came before the EU General Court upon Mr. Murphy’s appeal of the Board of Appeal decision.

The General Court rejected Murphy’s application for a declaration of invalidity of the Nike design on the following grounds (here).

Firstly, it considered that, in order for a wristband to be able to fulfil its function properly, its designers would be limited by several constraints, as the need to be relatively small, thin, light, ergonomic in order to fit the wrist and to contain measuring instruments. These technical constraints led to conclude that the degree of freedom of the designer was high rather than very high, as argued by Mr. Murphy.

The degree of freedom must be taken into consideration in assessing individual character pursuant to Article 6(2) of the Designs Regulation, because the more the freedom of the designer in developing a design is restricted, the more likely it is that minor differences between the designs being compared will be sufficient to produce a different overall impression on an informed user. (see judgment of 10 September 2015, Handbags, T‑525/13, EU:T:2015:617, paragraph 29 and the case-law cited).

In any case, even taking account of a high degree of freedom afforded to the designer of electronic wristbands, the Court reiterated the position from earlier case law that the overall impression produced by the Nike design on the informed user was clearly different to that produced by Murphy’s design.

Indeed there were a number of differences between the two designs, namely that (i) the Nike design was larger and thicker than Murphy’s design, (ii) Nike’s design featured a large oval button on the surface of the wristband which was not present in Murphy’s design, (iii) the internal components of the Nike design were visible, giving it a more technical aspect than Murphy’s design, which appeared as opaque and elegant, and (iv) the Nike design had less ornamentation than Murphy’s design, on which the image of a diver and a line running along the wristband were clearly visible.

On the contrary, the clasps’ similarity in both designs alone was not sufficient to make them similar as a whole. Indeed, the overall impression must be determined in light of the manner in which the product is used and when using an electronic wristband, the informed user attaches more importance to the part displaying the data than to the clasp.

The General Court disregarded Murphy’s argument, based on UK case law, that his prior design enjoyed a higher degree of protection because it was a significant advance over the prior art in existence at the time of its registration in 2005. The Court has pointed out that it was not bound to consider decisions of national courts, even where the latter are based on provisions analogous to those of that regulation (see judgment of 29 October 2015, Éditions Quo Vadis v OHIM — Gómez Hernández (‘QUO VADIS’), T‑517/13, not published, EU:T:2015:816, paragraph 46 and the case-law cited). In addition, the new and unusual character of Murphy’s design did not prevent the informed user from perceiving the differences in subsequent designs (see, to that effect, judgment of 21 May 2015, Senz Technologies v OHIM — Impliva (Umbrellas), T‑22/13 and T‑23/13, EU:T:2015:310, paragraph 95).

Appeal has already been brought before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) (C-538/17 P). It does not seem unreasonable to predict the confirmation of the here mentioned decision. Indeed, the General Court seems to have applied the long standing principles formulated by the ECJ in relation to the assessment of the individual character and its judgment appears to be a matter of fact, that hardly may be challenged by the higher court.

Jacopo Ciani

General Court (Fifth Chamber), 4 July 2017, Thomas Murphy v European Union Intellectual Property Office, Case T-90/16

Early thoughts on behavioral advertising and the GDPR: a matter of discrimination?

How is behavioral advertising affected by the new EU General data protection regulation (GDPR)? This is probably one of the trickiest part of the new piece of legislation.

In its 2010 opinion (here), the group of EU data protection authorities (WP29) defined -online- behavioral advertising as “the tracking of users when they surf the Internet and the building of profiles over time, which are later used to provide them with advertising matching their interests”. The advertising matching is the result of an automated processing of personal data and is traditionally included in the concept of “profiling”.

When does personalized advertising entails profiling?

The threshold of profiling in perzonalized advertising is not always straightforward. The WP29 opinion distinguished among:

  1. Contextual advertising: advertising content selected based on the content currently being viewed by a user. E.g., for a search engine, the content derived from (i) the search keywords or (ii) the user’s IP address if connected to geographical location. It does not entail profiling.
  2. Segmented advertising: advertising content selected based on known characteristics of the data subject (age, sex, location, etc.), which the data subject has provided at the sign up or registration stage. It does not entail profiling.
  3. Behavioral advertising: advertising content selected based on user’s interests derived or inferred from his behavior. It entails profiling. In a recent decision (here), the Italian Garante stated that behavioral advertising entails profiling when the segmentation of the public is based both on generic data (sex, age, location) and the purchase history, as displaying different advertisement based on this data causes a diversification in the treatment of customers. This can be therefore an example of minimum level of profiling in personalized advertising.

Behavioral advertising and profiling under the Data Protection Directive

The Data Protection Directive (95/46/EC) did not specifically regulate the concept of profiling, though it already posed attention to automated data processing (which could include profiling). Article 15 was stressing that each individual should have the right not to be subject to decisions solely based on automated processing of data if they might (i) produce legal effects or (ii) significantly affect him. It left rooms for Member States to allow exceptions only in case this automated processing is (i) necessary for the performance of an agreement or (ii) authorized under national law. But behavioral advertising has not been generally included under the scope of this provision.

…and the GDPR

In the GDPR, profiling takes center stage as one of the main type of automated processing. The GDPR introduces a legal definition of profiling (Art. 4.4), that is based on the automated evaluation of individuals’ aspects to analyze or predict his/her situation, preferences, interests, reliability, behavior, location or movement. And adds right to explanation for individuals (Art. 13.2.f) and to require human intervention (art. 22.3).

Art. 22 GDPR also updates Art. 15 of Data Protection Directive, by adding “profiling” among the processing operations entailing automated decisions one has the right not to be subject to, i.e. when it might (i) produce legal effects or (ii) similarly significantly affect individuals. And introduces consent as a new legal ground for this automated processing. However, given the high risk entailed, it requires an “explicit” consent. Other legal grounds, e.g., legitimate interest, cannot be invoked. This profiling/automated processing is thus compared to special (risky) categories of personal data regulated by Art. 9 GDPR, for which “explicit” consent shall be sought.

What type of profiling entails a significant effect? Is this applicable to behavioral advertising?

Some guidance can be taken from the regime of the Data Protection Impact Assessment (“DPIA”) required for processing activities resulting in high risk. Indeed, Art. 35 GDPR states that a DPIA is in particular required in case of “systematic and extensive evaluation of personal aspects relating to natural persons which is based on automated processing, including profiling, and on which decisions are based that produce legal effects concerning the natural person or similarly significantly affect the natural person”. This provision basically recalls Art. 22 GDPR.

big bother eye.png

The WP29 guidelines on DPIA (here) mention as an example of profiling that does not significant affect individuals (meaning, not resulting in high risk): “An e-commerce website displaying adverts for vintage car parts involving limited profiling based on past purchases behaviour on certain parts of its website”. Probably not the most illuminating example, but in sum: profiling not systematic nor extensive. The guidelines then list the elements entailing a high risk:

  1. the use of a new technology;
  2. the time factor, i.e., the duration of the processing. For instance, in line with this, the Italian DPA (“Garante”) –in a landmark 2005 decision about loyalty programs– identified a maximum retention period for customer profiling data and their use for marketing of respectively 1 and 2 years (here). Retaining profiling data for longer periods entails a high risk and requires the Garante’s prior check –once the GDPR applies a DPIA would be required instead–;
  3. the large scale of data processed;
  4. matching or combining datasets.

An example of processing raising an high risk is: “The gathering of public social media profiles data to be used by private companies generating profiles for contact directories”. The use of social capturing tools to profile and match customer data on a large scale can be thus relevant.

“Strong” v “soft” profiling and the risk of discrimination in behavioral advertising

Based on this, one may apparently distinguish between a sort of “strong” and “soft” profiling, subject to different regimes. But the guidelines continue stating that a risk occurs also when processing may lead to discrimination against individuals.

This point is quite obscure, particularly if applied to behavioral advertising. Many say that behavioral advertising cannot have significant effects on individuals (see here and here). However, it is worthy noting that the UK DPA (“ICO”), in its public consultation about profiling (here – yet still provisional), warned about potential risks for individual fundamental rights connected even to behavioral advertising:

Profiling technologies are regularly used in marketing. Many organisations believe that advertising does not generally have a significant adverse effect on people. This might not be the case if, for example, the use of profiling in connection with marketing activities leads to unfair discrimination. One study conducted by the Ohio State University revealed that behaviourally targeted adverts can have psychological consequences and affect individuals’ self-perception. This can make these adverts more effective than ones relying on traditional demographic or psychographic targeting. For example, if individuals believe that they receive advertising as a result of their online behaviour, an advert for diet products and gym membership might spur them on to join an exercise class and improve their fitness levels. Conversely it may make them feel that they are unhealthy or need to lose weight. This could potentially lead to feelings of low self-esteem”.

One may argue that any kind of customer segmentation and profiling –resulting in different contents showed to individual– entails discrimination. It is probably too extreme. Profiling entails diversification in the treatment of individuals. It is for sure an act of processing (as it has an effect on individuals) though does not necessarily discriminate. But this risk shall not be underestimated: based on the opinions above, it appears that attention should be given to the possible effects (price discrimination, psychological effects, etc.) the envisaged targeted marketing campaigns can cause, considering the type products advertised, the way they are advertised, the type of segmentation and matching of interests, the scale, etc. Intrusive effects of profiling shall thus being considered. Not an easy exercise, but as profiling techniques are dramatically increasing their capacity of analyzing individual intimate aspects (e.g., AI advances are used to spot signs of sexuality, see here) authorities are calling for broader protection of individual fundamental rights.

What are the practical consequences?

“Risky” (or “strong”) profiling is subject to stricter formalities, requires a DPIA and explicit consent. This apply to behavioral advertising as well.

There is no definition of “explicit” in the GDPR. The WP29 (here) defined it as:  “all situations where individuals are presented with a proposal to agree or disagree to a particular use … and they respond actively … orally or in writing […] by engaging in an affirmative action to express their desire to accept a form of data processing. In the on-line environment explicit consent may be given […] through clickable buttons depending on the context, sending confirmatory emails, clicking on icons, etc.” An active choice shall be thus required.

What about behavioral advertising based on tracking cookies?

An explicit consent would require an opt-in for the use of tracking cookies. In the past, EU DPAs have exempted tracking cookies from explicit consents (see for instance the Italian Garante and the ICO decisions, here and here). Similarly, Recital 32 GDPR lists as a form of “express” consent (though not “explicit”) the setting of the browser. This seems evidently addressing the use of cookies. Some further guidance on the consent through the set up of browsers will be surely given under the e-Privacy Regulation. The current draft (here), at Art. 4a (former art. 9) and Recitals 20-22, provides further details on how browser settings will be presumably confirmed as a form of consent (though they are abandoning “cookie banner/cookie walls” solution endorsing advanced browsers settings “privacy by design” instead). But, based on the above, this kind of consent would be difficulty allow “strong” profiling (though e-Privacy Regulation is lex specialis and some guidelines will help).

Behavioral advertising and legitimate interest

On the other hand, “soft” profiling can be also based on “normal” consent, or on legitimate interest. This is clearly confirmed by Article 21 GDPR, that is however stressing that if profiling is based on legitimate interest controllers must grant data subjects with “objection rights”. The WP29 (see the guidance on legitimate interests, here) has already stated that: “controllers may have a legitimate interest in getting to know their customers’ preferences so as to enable them to better personalise their offers and ultimately, offer products and services that better meet the needs and desires of the customers.” Although it then excluded that legitimate interest can justify certain “excessive” behavioral advertising practices (see our past analysis here).

There is for sure a legitimate interest of companies in matching promotional communications to individual preferences and interests. This is the future of advertising as well as one of the main business models for free services. Without personalisation many services would loose appeal and users nowadays are expecting a certain level of personalization based on their interests. Conditioning behavioral advertising to consent collection can be burdensome. And consent does not always represent a real safeguard. For this reason, some are calling for more flexible interpretation of the above rules to avoid the risk of having Europe’s advertising market (as well as data intelligence industry) limited and less competing compared to other countries (that do not subject profiling to consent).

This shall be however balanced with the right to privacy and to have personal data processed fairly, which is a fundamental right under the EU Charter (art. 8).

The final answer is left to the balance between the conflicting interests of companies and individuals. A balancing test for measuring the legitimate interest and excluding significant effects and discrimination shall be of crucial importance. This fits in with the spirit of the new accountability principle, that leaves to data controllers the ultimate decision on how to treat the risks of the concrete processing. Data controllers shall put in place privacy safeguards. As balancing tools, transparency and granular control for individuals on how personal data are processed will play a key role, together with an real analysis of potential risks. These efforts should concretely mitigate privacy risks in behavioral advertising.

Let’s see how EU authorities guidelines on profiling (expected before December) will clarify these aspects and ultimately discrimination risks.

Francesco Banterle

A requiem for torpedo actions? A catalogue of the most recent decisions on the issue



(i) relating to a European Patent

(ii) aimed at obtaining a declaration of non-infringement of different national portions of said European Patent

(iii) brought before Italian Courts

(iv) against a patentee who is not domiciled in Italy

are commonly known as Italian torpedoes (the expression is a fortunate coinage of Mario Franzosi).

These actions are often started to take advantage of the rules concerning lis pendens. Where a non-infringement action is pending before a Court (say an Italian Court) with regard to the national portion of a European Patent (say the German portion), any infringement action subsequently brought before the Court of another country (say a German Court) with regard to the same portion of the same European Patent may be stayed. This stay – and the consequent delay in ascertainment of infringement – is the goal of torpedo-launchers.

Of course, the slower the jurisdiction, the longer the stay. Thus, launching a torpedo is particularly effective in slow jurisdictions, like – at least in the past – that of Italy.

Traditionally Italian Courts have not looked with favor on such actions, seeing them as tools for misusing the (flaws of the Italian) legal system.

This traditional view was authoritatively expressed by a 2003 decision of the Joint Divisions of the Court of Cassation (the Windmöller decision), which deracinated torpedo actions on the grounds that Article 5.3 of the Brussels Convention of 1968 does not apply to non-infringement claims (Italian Court of Cassation, decision no. 19550/2003, in Giur. Ann. Dir. Ind., 2004, pp. 61 ff.). If it is the plaintiff itself which denies the existence of a harmful event, said the Court, then by definition there cannot be jurisdiction under Article 5.3 of the Brussels Convention.

A few years later, in the GAT case (here), the EU Court of Justice struck another blow against torpedoes by stating that the rule of exclusive jurisdiction laid down by Article 16.4 of the Brussels Convention of 1968 [corresponding to Article 22.4 of Regulation 44/2001] concerns all proceedings relating to the registration or validity of a patent

“irrespective of whether the issue is raised by way of an action or a plea in objection” (the principle was later incorporated in Article 24.4 of Regulation 1215/12).

As a result – and even regardless of the restrictive interpretation of Article 5.3 of the Brussels Convention given by the Windmöller ruling -, in order not to fall into the exclusive jurisdiction under Article 16.4 of the Brussels Convention and 22.4 of Regulation 44/2001, torpedo actions had to be based on pure non-infringement arguments.

In this scenario, most certainly not favorable to torpedoes, a decision of the Joint Divisions of the Court of Cassation reopened the discussion on the admissibility of this kind of action (Court of Cassation, 10 June 2013, in Giur. ann. dir. ind., 2013, pp. 60 ff.: the Asclepion case; a full English translation of the decision has been published in IIC, 2014, pp. 822 ff.). In the context of a non-infringement case brought before the Court of Rome by a German company with regard to the Italian and German portions of a European Patent owned by a US company, the Joint Divisions – quoting, word for word, the EUCJ Folien Fischer decision (here) – stated that

(aArticle 5.3 of Regulation 44/2001 … must be interpreted “as meaning that an action for a negative declaration seeking to establish the absence of liability in tort, delict, or quasi-delict falls within the scope of that provision”

and also that

 (btherefore [pertanto, in the original Italian text] with regard to the declaration of non-infringement sought … before the Court of Rome, the Italian Courts must be considered to have jurisdiction, on the grounds that they are the Courts of the place where the harmful event may occur, also with regard to the “German portion” of the European Patent” [my translation].

The 2013 Asclepion ruling certainly lent itself to interpretation as a general permit to launch torpedoes, at least when they do not rely on any arguments of invalidity. This is, indeed, what the Court said. But, looking more closely, a missing step can be seen in the reasoning of the Asclepion ruling, between statements (a) and (b). This significantly limits its practical impact.

If closing the jurisdictional door of Article 5.3 of Regulation 44/2001 to non-infringement actions, as the Windmöller 2003 decision did, fatally blocks any attempt to launch torpedoes, interpreting Article 5.3 as covering both infringement and non-infringement actions does not necessarily mean – in spite of the adverb “therefore” used by the Court of Cassation – that the Italian Courts have jurisdiction under this provision over actions concerning the foreign portions of a European Patent. To this end, something more must exist, and namely a link with Italy.

It is precisely because of the (non-) existence of this link that the torpedo actions brought before Italian Courts after the Asclepion ruling have been stopped.

In Schindler v. Otis, in line with Asclepion, the Court of Milan (Judge Dr. Marina Tavassi; decision of 27 January 2014, published in Giur. ann. dir. Ind., 2014, pp. 741 ff.) admitted that, in itself, a non-infringement action may be brought against a foreign defendant under Article 5.3. Nevertheless, it declined its jurisdiction on the non-infringement claims submitted against a US patentee, insofar as the Spanish portions of the European patent in suit were concerned. According to the Court,

Italy can be the place where the harmful event occurs or may occur only with regard to the Italian portion of a European patent, because there cannot be harm – actual or potential – caused in Italy by the alleged infringement of the Spanish portions of the patents in suit. Indeed, any national portion of a European patent is effective only in the relevant country and may be infringed only in that country” [my translation].

Therefore, in the opinion of the Court of Milan, when it comes to the infringement/non infringement of foreign portions of European patents owned by foreign patentees, there can never be a link with the country of Italy.

In the more recent Basf v. Bayer case, the Court of Milan (Judge Dr. Alessandra Dal Moro; the decision, dated 14 December 2016, published in Riv. dir. ind., 2017, I, pp. 309 ff. and also available here) fully confirmed the above approach and declared its lack of jurisdiction over the non-infringement of the foreign portion of a European patent (in particular, the German portion). In doing so, the Court explicitly dealt with the reasoning of Asclepion, clarifying why, in its view, the Court of Cassation’s decision could not be read as allowing torpedoes:

the fact that article 5.3 of Regulation 44/2001 (now replaced by Regulation 1215/2012) may be applied to non-infringement actions in no way changes the stance of the Supreme Court with regard to the existence of jurisdiction in the case of infringement (or non-infringement) of non-Italian portions of European Patents. A claim seeking a declaration whereby certain conduct does not constitute infringement of a patent means that the patent is effective, and this effectiveness is geographically limited to the perimeter of the legal system to which it refers. Outside that perimeter of effectiveness, it is not possible to discuss infringing or non-infringing conduct and it is therefore not even possible to allege an, actual or potential, ‘harmful event’” [my translation].

A further decision was issued on torpedoes in 2014, but on different grounds. In Agilent v. Oerlikon, the Court of Genova (Judge Dr. Rossella Silvestri; the decision, dated 23 April 2014, is available here) declined its jurisdiction because the torpedo-launcher had raised invalidity arguments in support of non-infringement claims concerning the German portion of a European patent and a German utility model. The claims thus fell into the exclusive jurisdiction of the Courts of the place of registration.

Hence, all the torpedoes launched in Italy after the Asclepion ruling have been dismissed on the grounds of lack of jurisdiction. Does this mean that the torpedo saga has finally come to an end?

Riccardo Perotti

Shape trademarks: the Court of Florence’s innovative interpretation of “substantial value”

The Court of Florence recently expressed an interesting view on the interpretation of absolute grounds of registration invalidity provided for signs constituted by the shape of a product, and, in particular, substantial value.

The case concerned the shape of the world wide famous Hermes’ “KELLY” and “BIRKIN” bags, the shape of which was registered as 3D trademark in Italy and before the EUIPO.


Hermes alleged the infringement of its famous trademarks by an Italian company offering for sale bags highly similar to the ones protected with Hermes shape trademarks. The alleged infringer resisted claiming, as usual in these cases,  that the above trademarks were invalid since, besides other things, they consist of a shape giving substantial value to the bag.

The Court of Florence dismissed such claim, excluding the existence of a substantial value with an unusual (and deeply interesting) interpretation of this prevention.

Firstly, the decision (available heredefines substantial value as a real and concrete aesthetic plus-value – relevant per se to the product, being instead irrelevant the existence of any particular decoration or added part – that cannot be separated from the product itself and is capable of prevailing on the product’s shape features that are necessary to its function.

Then, the Court expressly excluded that the mere ornamental attitude of the product’s appearance could be of relevance in the evaluation on the existence of a substantial value. Differently from the main case law on this ground of refusal (see decision of 15 February 2012 of the Court of Venice on Crocs shoes or decision of 16 June 2015 of the Court of Milan on Flou’s Nathalie bed), the decision essentially denies that substantial value consists in the capability of the shape to influence the consumer’s choice of purchase, so to be itself the main reason why the product is in fact chosen and bought. In the Court’s view, this capability of the object’s shape to catch the consumers’ attention is connected only with trademark reputation.

Only when the aesthetic appearance of the product’s ornamental shape is so relevant to give a particular aesthetic value inseparable from the product itself trademark registration is prevented. Having this interpretation of substantial value in mind, the Court affirmed that “KELLY” and “BIRKIN” bags where valid trademarks as their shape trademark may be separated from the product itself and does not merely consist in the standard appearance of bags.

This decision interestingly tries to plot a demarcation line between substantial value and trademark reputation/distinctiveness that are often overlapped in the context of the discussions on substantial value. The distinction proposed by the Court of Florence could indeed be of help in drafting a clear and new definition of substantial value, whose interpretation is still not crystal clear when applied to real cases. As a matter of fact, and as actually noticed by the Vespa case (see here), the current interpretation of this condition often leads the trademark owner to deny the attractiveness and distinctiveness of the shape of a product when substantial value is under discussion on the basis that an actual recognition of the shape of the product on the market may lead to the assertion of the existence of a substantial value.

The interpretation of the Court of Florence would not fall into this trap and appears to be more logical in the overall context of the trademark protection, as it denies any relevance of the trademark distinctive character in the context of absolute grounds of registration invalidity provided for signs constituted by the shape of the product. This interpretation, although interesting, is however new and currently isolated. While certainly providing food for thought, it downplays the meaning, and legal sense , of the requisite of substantial value as a reason to attract consumers. If only reputation is attractive, what is the meaning, and sense, to verify the occurrence of a substantial value? ‘Substantial’ to what effect?!

Maria Luigia Franceschelli

Court of Florence, case No. 5850/2010, 31 January 2017, Hermes International Scpa, Hermes Sellier SA, Hermes Italie SpA vs. Papini Paolo & C. Snc and Corsini Giorgio di Gianna e Paola Corsini Snc.