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.

Capture

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.

The Court of Appeal of Milan and the active role of the ISP in selling infringing services via the e-marketplaces White Pages and Yellow Pages

The liability of the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) is still an unsettled area of the case law both at European and national level, with a lot of recent cases that deal with ISPs and the unauthorized online distribution of audio-visual contents (see CJEU case C-610/15 and Court of Appeal of Rome – case Break Media – and Court of Turin – case Delta TV). Anyway, there is also another side of the case law on the liability of ISPs that deals with the selling of goods and services which infringe IP rights via e-marketplace (the leading case of the CJEU is case C-324/09 L’Oréal Vs eBay). In a recent decision, the Court of Appeal of Milan (here) shed light on the joint liability of the ISP and the professional users of its services.

The case at stake is based on the alleged infringement of the trademarks of some major manufacturers of domestic appliance (Electrolux, Candy, Ariston, Bosch, Hoover, Smeg and others, collectively the “Claimants”) by the company ABB, with others (the “Defendant”) via some adverts on the Italianonline’s websites White Pages and Yellow Pages. ABB offered maintenance and support services for domestic appliances – on the White Pages and Yellow Pages edited by Italiaonline – using the ABB’s registered trademarks “Boschexpert”, “Candyexpert”, Aristonexpert” and so on. The Court of Milan in first instance held that ABB’s trademarks were void and found ABB liable of trademark infringement and unfair competition against the manufacturers, since the consumers were misled by the use of ABB’s trademarks on the real origin of the support and maintenance services. Italiaonline has been found jointly liable of such IP violations and both ABB and Italiaonline have been ordered to jointly pay damages to the Claimants. Italiaonline reached a settlement with the Claimants while ABB appealed the Court’s ruling of first instance.

The Court of Appeal of Milan has confirmed the ruling of the Court of first instance in terms of determination of the illicit conduct and quantification of the damages but has clarified the position of Italiaonline as ISP whose electronic means have been use for committing an IPR infringement. Indeed, in the first instance Italiaonline has been fully indemnified by ABB since ABB had a preeminent role in the illicit conduct. This seemed to ABB inconsistent, since Italiaonline has been declared jointly liable for the same illicit conduct. According to ABB, Italiaonline as a technical ISP is the sole responsible of the search engine for the adverts on the websites White Pages and Yellow Pages, which results are misleading and determining confusion to the consumers.

According to the Court of Appeal, Italianonline’s websites can be considered Information Society Services pursuant to E-commerce Directive (despite the fact the White Pages and the Yellow Pages are published both in paper and in electronic form). This leads to the fact that Italianonline can be considered a host provider pursuant to Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive for the websites White Pages and Yellow Pages, since it technically hosts on such websites the adverts of its professional clients, such as ABB. More in detail, in this case the ISP cannot invoke the safe harbour provision pursuant to Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive due to its active role for the third-party adverts in return for payment, where Italiaonline does not merely technically process third party adverts but also edits promotional messages coupled with the third-party adverts and identifies the key-words for its search engine. While playing this active role – according to the Court of Appeals – the ISP is responsible for lack of control and for not having expeditiously removed the infringing adverts after the notices of the Claimants (the earliest ones dated 2003).

With regards to the relation between the infringing activity of ABB and the cooperation of Italialonline, the Court of Appeal found that, even if jointly liable, ABB had effectively a preeminent role in terms of relevance and wilfulness of the conduct and that the joint liability must be evaluated according to Article 2055 of the Italian Civil Code, pursuant to which, where two or more parties are held jointly liable, the party paying the damages can recover from the other parties the pro quota of damages attributable to the level of wilfulness and to the consequences of the conduct of the other parties (so called, right of recourse). The request raised by Italianoneline for indemnification of the damages determined by ABB is considered by the Court of Appeal as a right of recourse aimed at clarifying the pro quota  of responsibility of Italiaonline. The right of recourse is applicable pro quota also to ABB as party paying the damages. In light of this interpretation, the Court of Appeal awarded also to ABB a recourse against Italiaonline equal to the 30% of damages to be paid to the Claimants.

This precedent seems of interest because the Court of Appeal of Milan, while making clear application of the principles set forth by the Court of Justice in the leading European case law L’Oréal Vs eBay (an e-marketplace cannot invoke the safe harbour provisions under E-Commerce Directive if it plays an active role by optimizing and promoting the selling of infringing products or services), has even moved forward by clarifying a possible criterion for the attribution of responsibility between professional users and e-marketplaces. It would be of interest verifying whether the same approach could be adopted by other foreign jurisdictions, since the regime of joint responsibility under tort law seems to be matter of domestic jurisdiction.

Gianluca Campus

Court of Appeal of Milan, case No.  1076/2014, 14 December 2016, Italiaonline Spa Vs ABB Srl and Others (President of the Court: Hon. A.M. Vigorelli; Judge-Rapporteur Hon. F. Fiecconi)

The shape of the worldwide famous Vespa obtains protection in Italy under copyright law

Piaggio, the Italian company producer of the world wide famous Vespa scooter, was recently sued by the Chinese company Zhejiang Zhongneng Industry Group (“ZZIG”) in a quite complex case.

ZZIG offered for sale three scooters named “Revival”, protected by a Community design registration no. 001783655-0002, “Cityzen” and “Ves”, the shape of which was not covered by any registered IP right in Italy or in the European Union.

Capture ZZIG

As to Piaggio, the company owns the Italian 3D trademark no.1556520 claiming priority of the Community trademark no. 011686482, filed on 7 August 2013 and registered on 29 August 2013.

Capture Vespa

When Piaggio obtained the seizure of the three above motorbike models in the context of a Fair held in Milan, the Chinese company started an ordinary proceeding on the merits before the Court of Turin against Piaggio, seeking the declaration of non-infringement of Piaggio Vespa 3D trademark by its “Revival”, “Cityzen” and “Ves” scooters. Besides, it asked a declaration of invalidity of Piaggio’s Vespa trademark, based on the fact that it was anticipated by their design and thus not novel. Also, it held that the 3D trademark was void, as it does not respect the absolute ground for refusal established by the law.

Piaggio resisted and asked the Court of Turin to reject the above claims, declare that the Vespa shape is protected under copyright law, trademark law and unfair competition law and that those rights were infringed by ZIGG three models of scooters. As a matter of fact, Vespa was offered for sale by Piaggio since 1945.

First of all, the Court of Turin declared that the Vespa trademark does not lack of novelty, as it reflects a model of Vespa marketed since 2005, before the commercialization of ZZIG first scooter, i.e. “Cityzen”. Moreover, the Court of Turin excluded the existence of any absolute ground for refusal, stating that its shape was not technical nor standard and not even substantial as the reason why consumers chose the Vespa were not merely aesthetical. Based on these findings, the Court finally affirmed that only the “Ves” scooter constitute an infringement of Piaggio trademark.

This  said, the Court of Turin further held that the Vespa shape is eligible for protection under copyright law, as it is since long time worldwide recognized as an icon of Italian design and style, shown in advertising and movies, presented plenty of times at museum and exhibitions and part of many books, articles, magazines and publications. All considered, safe and sound evidence show that the shape of Vespa is unequivocally believed to be an artistic piece of designs by the main communities of experts worldwide. Nevertheless, the Court held that, again, only Ves scooter infringed Piaggio rights vested on its scooter as it presents features similar to the ones protected both under the Vespa trademark and copyright.

The decision (full text here) is indeed interesting as it critically examines the similarities and differences between the “original” good and the ones that are claimed to be infringing products and, while asserting the eligibility for protection of the Vespa shape both under trademark and copyright law, it excludes infringement for two products through a detailed and careful examination. This narrow approach is indeed interesting because it affirms the principle that the infringement of designs protected under copyright law shall be evaluated with an analytical examination similar to those applied in cases of trademark infringement.

A doubt might remain about the overlapping of trademark and copyright protection. Since the former never expires as long as the product is on the market (plus the subsequent five years, according to Italian law), one might ask what advantage for the right holder might subsist by ‘adding’ a protection limited in time, such as copyright’s. The answer might be: the dual protection functions as a ‘parachute’ for the case that one of the two, in a subsequent Judgement (Appeal or High Court: Cassazione in Italy) should be successfully challenged by a competitor.

Maria Luigia Franceschelli

Court of Turin, case No. 13811/2014, 6 April 2017, Zhejiang Zhongneng Industry Group, Taizhou Zhongneng Import And Export Co. vs Piaggio & c. S.p.a..

Design’s artistic value: no univocal definition according to the Italian Supreme Court

With the decision at stake (dated November 13, 2015, full decision here) on the possible copyright protection of an out-door seat, the Supreme Court interestingly expressed a subtle (but crucial) critic on the current approach adopted by some Italian decisions that seem to ‘generously’ recognize the existence of artistic value for design objects, leaning on apparently weak – or lonely – evidence. This appears to be, for example, the case of the recent decision of the Supreme Court affirming that Moon Boots were artistic, as allegedly proved by the fact that the boots were exposed in an exhibition of industrial design works at the Louvre Museum (see full decision here).

A more severe approach seems to be adopted by the decision in comment, concerning the design of a line of outdoor seats called “Libre”, created by the plaintiff and claimed to be eligible for protection under copyright law. The Court of first instance and the Court of Appeal of Venice excluded the existence of an artistic value and thus excluded any copyright infringement by a line of similar outdoors seat created by a competitor. So, the plaintiff asked the Supreme Court to interpret such notion.

Capture Libre

The Italian Supreme Court, after having made a useful recognition of the current trends adopted by Italian Courts in the interpretation of such requirement, affirmed that the concept of artistic value cannot be confined in one, unique and exhaustive definition. The cases being too various, it is more useful defining a number of parameters that Judges can apply on a case-by-case basis, considering in depth the concrete facts occurred. Those parameters, continues the Court, have both subjective and objective aspects.

As to the former, they consist in the capability of the object to stir aesthetic emotions, in the greater creativity or originality of the shape – compared the others normally found in similar products on the market – transcending the practical functionality of the good: aesthetic have its own independent and distinct relevance. These emotions, admits the Supreme Court, are inevitably subject to the personal experience, culture, feeling and taste of the individual doing the evaluation. The result of the assessment on the existence of artistic value may thus change depending on who looks at the piece of design. So, it is necessary to indicate more objective parameters.

It is therefore to be considered the recognition that the piece of design has received within the cultural and institutional circles with respect to its artistic and aesthetic features. This witnesses that the aesthetic appearance is considered capable of giving to the object a value and a meaning independent from its strict functionality. In concrete, this is shown by the presence of the object at museum or exhibitions, mentions in specialized newspapers and journals (not having a commercial scope), the critics, awards, prices and similar. On top of that, crucial appears the circumstance that the object has gained an autonomous value on the market of pieces of art, parallel to the commercial one or, more commonly, that it has reached a high economic value showing that the public appreciates and recognizes (and is ready to pay) its artistic merits. All the above elements are inevitably influenced by time: if a product is new it would have had no time to receive such prices, honors and awards from third parties. Even this parameter shall thus not be considered as absolute, but still connected to a case by case analysis.

With the above, wide and flexible interpretation of the concept of artistic value, the Supreme Court appears to distance itself from a jurisprudence that focused the existence of  even just one of the above circumstances.  In particular, it seems to downplay the current trend, more and more popular in the merit Courts,  whereby the presence of the piece of design in museums and exhibitions constitutes per se a sufficient evidence of the artistic merits of an object. The decision in comment seems to ask the lower Courts to be more selective and in ascertaining the existence of an artistic merit in the design object. And to do this on a case-by-case analysis, excluding any “a priori” single-criterion-based assessment.

By this decision the Supreme Court gives objectively rules in favor of small or new designers and firms, whose products could achieve protection on the basis of a concrete analysis of the single object’s potentialities, independently from its long-lasting presence on the market, huge marketing efforts, or the capability to  exhibit  the object in a museum. The current approach, criticized by the Supreme Court, seems indeed to privilege ( moreover, in an era of crisis) companies that are already solidly established and powerful on the market. This decision is good news for competition.

Maria Luigia Franceschelli

Italian Supreme Court, case No. 23292/2015, 13 November 2015, Metalco S.p.A. vs City Design S.r.l. and City Design S.p.A..

EU and China published a list of each party’s 100 Geographical Indications to be protected in view of a new bilateral agreement (expected for 2017)

On 2 June 2017 (see the joint communication here and EU Commission’s press release here), EU and China agreed to reciprocally enhance protection of geographical indications (“GIs”) and to publish a list of 100 European and 100 Chinese GIs that will be considered for benefiting from a new bilateral agreement.

The list of 100 EU GIs (here) includes food products, wines and spirits. eu dop21 EU GIs were already registered locally in China via direct application and will nevertheless be attached to the future agreement. This follows the “10 plus 10” project that in 2012 experimented granting a reciprocal protection to 10 EU and Chinese renowned GIs (here).

 

 

The negotiation of the bilateral agreement on reciprocal GIs’ protection started in 2010 and is expected to be concluded in 2017. The recent 19th EU – China Summit (here) has pushed to accelerate works. The publication of each on list of GIs for opposition is thus intended as a way to speed up the finalization of the pending negotiations. Interested parties have now two months for presenting comments to EU and Chinese authorities.

The aim of the agreement is enhancing GIs protection on a mutual basis with the hope of positively influence rural development, spreading local culture and traditions on both sides, and – most importantly – to increase consumers’ awareness and provide new tools for protecting national GIs.

Centrality of GIs in the EU framework is known (though sometimes leads to excessive registrations in terms of figures: the EU Commission counted over 3300 EU names registered plus further 1250 non-EU names registered in the EU GI system – is this really necessary for EU consumers?). And, the Commission estimated the market for EU GIs in EUR 54.3 billion, accounting for 15% of total EU food and drinks exports.

Chinese market is of course one of the largest and is important developing the demand for EU products there. On the other hand, China has a number of local GIs, mostly unknown to EU consumers, that China hopes can be spread in the EU market.

chinese GI

It is known that bilateral agreements are the main tool to extend EU GIs’ protection in other territories, and the new agreement is welcomed. Particular attention shall however be given to enforcing mechanisms (often perceived as the main problem in China, though efforts for developments are in course – see for instance here). Let’s see the next steps.

Francesco Banterle

 

 

Italian Courts and the protection of Graphical User Interfaces under copyright laws: some recent cases

In some recent cases (case “Trend for Trend Vs Pix Agency” dated 5.2.2016; case “DriveK Italia Vs Webbdone” dated 20.3.2016 and case “Esko Software Vs Beegraphic” dated 6.7.2012) the Court of Milan has ruled with regard to the legal protection of the Graphical User Interfaces (“GUI”) and more in detail on the protection of the overall aspect of the GUI (the so called “Look&Feel”). The GUI can be considered as an atypical and complex creative work based on a project that combines graphical and navigation elements allowing interaction between users and devices (both at software and hardware level).

The term “Look&Feel” is sometimes used in EU case law (AG Bot – C 309/09) and by Italian scholars (Giordano D., Software e grafica dei social network, AIDA 2011, 248) as a synonymous of GUI (see AG’s Conclusion – C 309/09: “The graphic user interface, commonly referred to as the ‘look and feel’, enables communication between the program and the user”). More precisely, some scholars (Hayes, What’s left of “look and feel”: a current analysis, in Comp. Lawyer, X 1993, n. 5) consider “Look” the combination of all the visual and/or audio elements of a computer program as presented in a GUI and “Feel” as the sequence, structure and organization of the non-literal elements into a GUI. It has been questioned whether the overall “look and feel” (i.e. the combination of visual elements and the organization of such elements for interaction with users) can be protected as a whole.

The overall “Look&Feel” and the individual elements in a GUI can be protected, under certain conditions (notably with an adequate level of creativity), by Italian copyright law (see Article 1.1 and Article 19 Italian Copyright Law). This conclusion should not be disputed in case of one-to-one copies of GUIs and/or individual elements in a GUI (i.e. in case of “literal copyright infringements”). More problematic is the case of non-literal copyright infringement of the overall “look and feel”, where it has to be clarified which elements in the overall “look and feel” are eligible for copyright protection.

An obstacle to the protection of the “Look&Feel” is represented by Article 1.2 Software Directive (2009/24/EC), according to which ideas and principles of a computer programs are not eligible for protection under copyright law (“Protection in accordance with this Directive shall apply to the expression in any form of a computer program. Ideas and principles which underlie any element of a computer program, including those which underlie its interfaces, are not protected by copyright under this Directive”). Such EU provision is implemented by Article 2 n.8 Italian Copyright Law. It could be argued that “Look&Feel” incorporates some basic ideas and principles of the computer program generating the GUI. According to the above, protection under Italian copyright law could be granted to the overall “Look&Feel ” without taking into consideration those elements in the GUI: (i) that are expression of technical ideas and principles at the basis of the computer program generating the GUI; and (ii) that are the necessary result of the functional organization of the GUI.

On the other hand, the “Look&Feel” of a GUI could imply a level of creativity in the sequence, structure and organization of the elements, eligible for copyright protection as “elaborated ideas”. A possibile confirmation of this type of protection can be found in a EU case related to the protection of a computer manual. The CJEU has stated that, with reference to a computer manual, also the choice, sequence and combinations of commands, options, defaults and iterations is expression of creativity and can result in an intellectual creation protected under copyright law (see CJEU case C-406/10 “[…] the keywords, syntax, commands and combinations of commands, options, defaults and iterations consist of words, figures or mathematical concepts which, considered in isolation, are not, as such, an intellectual creation of the author of the computer program. It is only through the choice, sequence and combination of those words, figures or mathematical concepts that the author may express his creativity in an original manner and achieve a result, namely the user manual for the computer program, which is an intellectual creation”).

Italian case law regarding the alleged copyright infringement of the GUI of a website has usually excluded the violation of copyright laws in case of non-literal infringement and has made in some cases application of the rules against unfair competition practice in the Italian Civil Code (namely article 2598 ICC). Nevertheless in their legal analysis the Courts have expressed their view on the protection of GUIs under copyright laws. The Court of Milan in the case Trend for Trend Vs Pix Agency dated 5.2.2016, regarding the alleged copyright infringement of the GUI of a website, held that the scope of copyright protection includes both the expression and the elaboration of ideas but found that the format of the allegedly infringed website (inclusive of a description of the GUI) filed with the SIAE was not eligible for protection and that a comparison of the GUI (without taking into consideration forms imposed by the technical nature of the services proposed by the websites) excluded any graphical coherence between the GUIs. In another case the Court of Milan dated 20.3.2016 (DriveK Italia Vs Webbdone), excluding copyright infringement of the GUI of a computer program, stated that it is on the claimant to prove the level of creativity of the GUI, also by offering a reconstruction of the state of the art in the sector of the software at stake and/or by offering a comparison with other comparable software. Finally, in a case before the Court of Milan dated 6.7.2012 (Esko Software Vs Beegraphic) the technical expert found that most of the elements of the GUIs under comparison were imposed by technical reasons and that the organization of the elements in the GUI of the defendant was sufficiently differentiated by the same elements in the GUI of the claimant.

Gianluca Campus

The partial remedies introduced by the EU Commission’s Proposal for a Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market of 14 September 2016

InfoSoc’s unbalanced approach has been only partially – very partially – remedied by the Proposal for a Directive on copyright in the Digital Single Market of 14 September 2016 (here). Let us go through its main tenets.

  1. New mandatory exceptions

The Proposal envisages the extension of the range of mandatory exceptions to:

  1. “reproductions and extractions made by research organizations in order to carry out text and data mining…for the purpose of scientific research” (Art. 3);
  2. “the digital use of works…for the sole purpose of illustration for teaching, to the extent justified by the non-commercial purpose…” (Art. 4, dictating further restrictive conditions for the enjoyment of the exception; emphasis added);
  3. making copies, by cultural heritage institutions, of works permanently in their collections, for the sole purpose of preservation of such works (Art. 5).

These extensions deserve approval, of course, as they ‘upgrade’ to mandatory exceptions that InfoSoc provides as discretionary (Art. 5,2.c, e, and 3,a). But their impact is weakened by their persistent subjection – as all other exceptions and limitations foreseen by InfoSoc – to the barrier of the (in)famous three-step test which allows the copyright holder to oppose in judiciary sitting the actual enjoyment of the exceptions. Moreover, they are equally subject to the criterion of ‘strict interpretation’, also dictated by InfoSoc (confirmed by Art. 6 of the Proposal). Thus, for example, the ‘new’ exceptions under a), b) and c) would not allow either the market exploitation by research organizations of the fruits (reports) of their work, or the chance of Universities and other teaching institutions to edit and publish texts assembling lessons and other fruits of their educational activities.

Now, in all the cases where the public interest to spread culture and information may marry with economic exploitation (at times, however, non lucrative in proper sense: cultural heritage institutions, for instance, are bound to invest their incomes in institutional activities), wouldn’t be wiser – and truly consistent with the proclaimed aim to enhance the diffusion of culture and information – to adopt a mechanism of open paying access, instead than across-the board holding fast to the excludent paradigm?

The Max Planck Institute (MPI) went further and affirmed that data mining exception should apply also to commercial uses “as far as concerns content to which the persons performing the mining have lawful access” (see MPI position paper available here). Data mining relates to new analysis techniques to process large amounts of data, particularly to identify correlations and trends, which can be helpful in different sectors (health, marketing, IoT, etc.). In this regards, as acknowledged by Recital 8 “text and data mining may involve acts protected by copyright and/or by the sui generis database right, notably the reproduction of works or other subject-matter and/or the extraction of contents from a database”. Therefore, a general data mining exception would limit copyright and database rights. In this regard, the MPI says instead that data mining should be regarded as a normal use of a work, not requiring further authorization once a lawful access to the work is obtained. On the contrary, the new exception should be extended to cover data mining for research purposes even in cases of unauthorized access to protected works, i.e. research organizations should be able to carry out data mining without having to acquire access to the protected works.

We agree on that view. We however add that, in light of the concurring collective interests, data mining for commercial purposes should not in any case be subject to exclusive rights but rather to a regime of open paying access: business entities should be able to carry out data mining without having to acquire a general access to the protected works but rather by paying a reasonable fee/compensation.

  1. Use of out-of-commerce works by cultural heritage institutions

The Proposal provides for non-exclusive licences stipulated by collective management organizations with cultural heritage institutions for the digitisation, distribution communication and making available to the public of out-of-commerce works whose copyright belongs also to right holders not represented by the collective management organization – and this with cross-border effect (Arts 7-8).

The mechanism that empowers cultural institutions to (store and also) publish works ‘out-of-commerce’ is quite precarious, as the rightholders “may at any time object to their works…be deemed to be out of commerce and exclude the application of the licence to their works” (Art. 7,1.c). And this, without any obligation to resume the publication of the ‘forgotten’ works. As matter of fact, in its weakness, the new regime apparently amounts to a tentative compromise solution with the principle, recently re-stated by the CJEU in interpreting InfoSoc, whereby collecting societies cannot by their own initiative (i.e. substituting themselves to authors) authorize cultural institutions to digitise, store, communicate and make available to the public out-of-commerce works (CJEU, 11 November 2016, case C-301/15, Soulier and Doke).

  1. New rights on press publications against digital uses

The Proposal introduces (Art. 11) a new right, lasting 20 years, in favour of newspapers and magazines publishers to bar third parties (except the authors of the articles) from unauthorized extraction and online exploitation of even short, even very short (‘snippets’), parts of published articles.

This provision represents a ‘hardened’ version of the German Copyright Law which – possibly on the blueprint of an ancient jurisprudence of French origin – instead condoned the extraction and use of ‘imperceptible thefts’ (‘larcins imperceptibles’).

This right is commonly labelled “ancillary”: in truth it is a straight copyright (albeit with a reduced term) since it simply confirms the faculty of copyright holders’ (newspapers and magazine publishers) to grant or deny the authorization to exploit derivative works. Excerpts are indeed ‘reductions’, typically derivative works (hence included in the provision of Art. 12 of Berne Convention): works ultimately similar to the ‘condensed (sic.) books’ traditionally published by the American magazine Reader’s Digest. And the extreme brevity of the extracted text does not per se deny – particularly considering the typical ultra-synthetic mode of today’s digital communications – that the ‘snippet’ can well feature an ‘informational product’ as such apt to be sold and/or draw advertising revenues. Thus subtracted to the publishers of the original article.

However, the basic weakness of the new provision consists, again, in shaping a straight excluding right (just grazed by the research/teaching exception), i.e. remaining stuck to a proprietary approach to facts-assembling (are we introducing copyright on information and facts?). Which (contrast with Feist’s liberal inspiration aside) represents an objective factor of slowdown of the circulation of culture and information.

Once again, wouldn’t it have been wiser to adopt an ‘open paying access’ scheme in dealing with (derivative) commercial journalistic uses of copyrighted materials? For example by sharing part of the actual incomes generated by the derivative uses, if any.

In sum, the trumpet-announced ‘new copyright for the digital age’ is still fundamentally the old closed monad, just renovated with a few narrow windows. This indeed seems the solution adopted also for User Generated Contents (“UGCs”).

  1. Mandatory cooperation between ISPs and copyright holders on UGCs

The Proposal (Art. 13) tries to regulate UGC platforms. It imposes ISPs to “take measures to ensure the functioning of agreements concluded with rightholders for the use of their works or other subject-matter or to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter identified by rightholders through the cooperation with the service providers”.

As regard the imposition of agreements concluded with rightholders for the use of their works the Proposal is justified as it compensate copyright holders by placing on ISPs the burden of the unauthorised use of protected works on UGC platforms (which ISPs monetize), possibly by sharing part of advertising revenues.

However, the Proposal raises some concerns as it seems – again – dictated exclusively by the tentative of expanding the copyright scope. First, it is not coordinated with E-Commerce Directive and its safe harbour provisions: who are the ISPs concerned? What about “passive” ISPs and the ban of monitoring obligations on the net? In fact, a general obligation to prevent the availability on their services of works or other subject-matter identified by rightholders through the cooperation with the service providers should be imposed exclusively on “active” providers and should be carefully intended as a exception of the net neutrality principle.

Second, albeit the copyright scope is extended over the e-commerce safe harbours, there is no attempt to expand and adapt the existing framework of copyright exceptions to the online environment. And this despite the fragmented and restrictive implementation of InfoSoc’s exceptions list. This is particularly the case of those exceptions that could better fit online uses, i.e., quotation right (Infosoc Art. 5,3.d), parody (Art. 5,3.k) and incidental inclusion of works in other materials (Art. 5,3.i). In most cases restrictively transposed into national laws (where implemented). In other words, the formalized obligation to monitor UGC platforms is not balanced by any legal tools to safeguard new fair uses deserving areas of freedom. Additionally, online monitoring programs used by copyright holders – that would in fact be supported by the Proposal – can difficulty distinguish “fair” uses. Thus, it should have been advisable at least imposing to Member States to fully transpose all InfoSoc exceptions without reducing their scope. With no need to recall what already observed about the three-step test and the need of adapting it as a balancing criterion rather than an exclusive restrictive mechanism.

  1. Fair remuneration in contracts of authors and performers

An innovation that deserves full approval is instead the modified regime of contractual relations authors-publishers that allows the former to request not only an improvement of the level of royalties previously agreed upon, but also (read Art. 14.1 and 2, in functional connection with Art. 15), a fair share of the revenues from the ‘other’ sources of income, i.e. advertising, commercial offers, public representations, etc. In case of disagreement, the dispute author/publisher might be entrusted to ADR (Art. 16).

Realistically, though, the chances to achieve such revisions will depend on general agreements stipulated by collecting societies and publishers’ associations – ultimately, by said societies and the major ‘platforms’.

However, this provision is of high systemic relevance, as it allows alterations of the contractually agreed balance of the parties’ interests beyond the classical boundary of exceptional/unforeseeable new supervening circumstances of dramatic economic impact. And, above all, it fills a manifest lacuna of the InfoSoc Directive, which, as hinted above, is missed: the chance of a regulatory support of new ‘business models’ of dissemination of the works associated with the advent of the Internet and digital technology. Models often characterized by no payment obligation for the user for the enjoyment of single works disseminated online, and where the commercial revenues stem in whole or in part from advertising and the sale of various services and other similar sources. Hence, InfoSoc failed also to defend the legitimate rights of authors to obtain their slice of the pie of these other commercial revenues however stemming from the exploitation, direct or indirect, of their works – especially vis-à-vis ‘free’ online distribution models.

Punitive damages for IP infringement and the Enforcement Directive: some thoughts on the OTK decision

On 25 January last, just a few months after the Liffers (here, and on IPlens) and Hansson (here) judgments, the EU Court of Justice issued another decision under Article 267 TFEU on compensation for IP infringement (OTK, C-367/15, ECLI:EU:C:2017:36: here).

The case concerned the compatibility with Article 13 of Directive 2004/48 (the Enforcement Directive) of a provision of the Polish copyright law whereby, in the case of infringement, the copyright holder may be awarded a sum of money consisting of two or three times the amount of the hypothetical royalty.

Pending the referral proceedings, the above national provision was declared unconstitutional by the Trybunał Konstytucyjny (the Polish Constitutional Court) insofar as it provided for compensation amounting to “three times” the hypothetical royalty. As a consequence, the scope of the EUCJ’s analysis was narrowed to “duplication” of the hypothetical royalty.

However, while triplication of the hypothetical royalty (at least in many cases) quite blatantly amounts to a punishment, duplication thereof may also be viewed as a way of ensuring that IP holders are fully compensated for the damage they have suffered. Therefore, the decision of the Polish Constitutional Court gave the EUCJ the opportunity to answer the preliminary question posed by the referring Court without explicitly ruling on the compatibility of punitive damages with the Enforcement Directive. An opportunity which – at least at first sight – the EUCJ did not miss.

After stating that

Directive 2004/48 lays down a minimum standard concerning the enforcement of intellectual property rights and does not prevent the Member States from laying down measures that are more protective” (paragraph 23)

and that

the fact that Directive 2004/48 does not entail an obligation on the Member States to provide for ‘punitive’ damages cannot be interpreted as a prohibition on introducing such a measure” (paragraph 28)

the Court went on to state that

without there being any need to rule on whether or not the introduction of ‘punitive’ damages would be contrary to Article 13 of Directive 2004/48, it is not evident that the provision applicable in the main proceedings entails an obligation to pay such damages” (paragraph 29), in view of the circumstance that “mere payment of the hypothetical royalty is not capable of guaranteeing compensation in respect of all the loss actually suffered, given that payment of that royalty would not, in itself, ensure reimbursement of any costs — referred to in recital 26 of Directive 2004/48 — that are linked to researching and identifying possible acts of infringement, compensation for possible moral prejudice … or payment of interest on the sums due” (paragraph 30).

In the light of the above, it would be fair to think that the Court did not believe the issue of punitive damages to be at stake in the case at hand; that, in the Court’s view, the Polish provision in question did not provide for punitive damages; and that, therefore, the Court saw no reasons for (again, explicitly) ruling on the compatibility of such damages with Article 13 of the Enforcement Directive.

However, in paragraph 31, the Court concludes its reasoning by admitting that a doubled “hypothetical royalty” may exceed the loss actually suffered by the IP holder: and, “in exceptional cases, may exceed it “so clearly and substantially that a claim to that effect could constitute an abuse of rights, prohibited by Article 3(2) of Directive 2004/48”.

So, quite interestingly, when it deals with the case of the IP holder being awarded a sum exceeding the actual loss as a result of the application of the Polish provision at stake, the Court does not make any reference to Article 13 and to the expression “damages appropriate to the actual prejudice” contained therein. In line with its conception of the Directive as a “minimum standard” (paragraph 23), the Court only relies, with regard to damages exceeding the actual loss, on the concept of abuse of right provided by Article 3(2). And this seems to be an implicit acknowledgment of the admissibility of punitive damages under Article 13 of the Enforcement Directive. Indeed, on the one hand, damages which exceed (even if not “clearly” and “substantially”) the actual loss suffered by the IP holder are not compensatory, but punitive. On the other hand, an abuse of right entails the existence of a right. Thus, it might be inferred from paragraph 31 of the reasoning that, according to the Court, the Directive does not prevent national laws from providing IP holders with the right to be awarded damages which exceed the actual loss they suffered – that is, punitive damages. However, the right in question, just like any other, should not be abused. And, in this regard, the Court appears to find in the general Member States’ obligation to provide for safeguards against the abuse of rights under Article 3(2) of the Directive the sole limit to punitive damages laid down by the Directive itself. The Court does not precisely indicate when claiming damages which exceed the actual loss constitutes an abuse of right. It simply says that claiming damages which clearly and substantially exceed the actual loss may amount to an abuse, thus leaving unsolved the issue of what “clearly” and “substantially” mean.

The Court decision, in this perspective, appears to be in flagrant contrast with the opinion (here) of Advocate General Sharpston (who pointed out that, under the Enforcement Directive, compensation should be appropriate and proportionate to the actual prejudice suffered by the IP holder).

It may be noticed that a provision almost identical to the Polish one was contained in the Proposal for a Directive on measures and procedures to ensure the enforcement of intellectual property rights presented by the Commission on January 2003 (here). Under Article 17 of the Proposal [which, contrary to Article 13 and recital 26 of the Enforcement Directive, expressly referred to both compensatory and non-compensatory damages]:

“… the competent authorities shall award, at the request of the prejudiced party:

(a)  … damages set at double the royalties or fees which would have been due if the infringer had requested authorisation to use the intellectual property right in question.

And, in such respect, the Commission’s Executive Memorandum (here) read as follows:

This provision does not constitute punitive damages; rather, it allows for compensation based on an objective criterion while taking account of the expense incurred by the right holder such as administrative expenses incurred in identifying the infringement and researching its origin”.

*** . *** . ***

The issue of punitive damages is a very hot one. In Italy, such damages have traditionally been considered as contrary to the public order (see, for all, Court of Cassation, 19 January 2007, no. 1183). However, quite recently [1], the I Civil Division of the Italian Court of Cassation submitted the issue to the President of the Court of Cassation for the possible consideration of the Joint Division of the same Court of Cassation, also in view of the presence in the Italian legal system of provisions which may be read as providing for punitive damages. So far, no decision has been rendered by the Court of Cassation in this respect. However, it is not unlikely that the Court will change its traditional stance.

In this context, it is worth remembering that Article 68(2) of the Agreement on a Unified Patent Court clearly provides that “The infringer shall not benefit from the infringement. However, damages shall not be punitive”. Thus, at least in (unitary) patent matters, the issue might be considered to be resolved.

Riccardo Perotti

[1] Order no. 9978 of 16 May 2016, available here.

EU Court of Justice, 25 January 2017, Stowarzyszenie ‘Oławska Telewizja Kablowa’ v Stowarzyszenie Filmowców PolskichC-367/15, ECLI:EU:C:2017:36.

The Court of Milan says that standard-essential patents may be only “optionally” implemented in compliant products.

This past September the Court of Milan issued an interesting – and so-far unpublished – decision in a patent infringement cahtc-legendse involving smartphones and standard-essential patents. The decision is noteworthy as it addressed (albeit briefly) the dynamics of standard-setting and the concept of essentiality, in partial reversal of previous decisions from the same Court and other Italian Courts.

The facts first. The case involved, on the one side, TLC giant HTC and, on the other, IPCom: a German non-practicing entity. Around 2010 IPCom pressed criminal charges against HTC, claiming that a number of HTC smartphones infringed three of its patents (EP 1 236 368, EP 0 913 979 and EP 1 226 692) that had been declared essential to a number of standards (e.g. WDCMA, SAP and UMTS). In response to this, in September 2010, HTC summoned IPCom before the Court of Milan, looking for a declaration of invalidity and non-infringement of said patents. IPCom counterclaimed for infringement, but only for EP 1 226 692 (hereinafter “EP ‘692“).

A (complex and very lengthy) technical investigation phase followed suit, with the appointment of an independent expert. In particular, it was questioned whether HTC smartphones would have directly or indirectly infringed EP ‘692, which was preliminarily deemed valid by the Court-appointed expert.

In assessing infringement, the experts and the Court had to first come at odds with the fact that EP ‘692 had been declared “essential” to ETSI, a prominent standard-setting organisation, for the UMTS standard. And that HTC smartphones were undisputedly compliant to said technical norm.

IPCom contended that since EP ‘692 was formally declared essential to the UMTS standard, every product that proved to be complaint with said standard would automatically infringe its patent.

The Court of Milan, however, viewed things differently.

In the first place, it held that a declaration of essentiality is a “necessarily unilateral” statement, particularly referring to paragraph 3.2 of the ETSI Guide on IPRs, wherein the Institute specifies that it “cannot confirm, or deny, that the patents/patent applications are, in fact, essential, or potentially essential” (for the latest version of the ESTI Guide on IPRs see here). Therefore, the Court affirmed that it had to assess the infringement on a factual and technical basis, implicitly affirming that it could not presumptively do so, on the basis of the patent’s declaration of essentiality alone.

In the second place, the Court of Milan further reviewed the UMTS technical specification at stake, noting that the execution of the activities covered by the patent (relating to the so-called PDCP layer), although regulated in the standard, were only optional for standard-compliant products. To ascertain this, the Court ordered for tests to be carried out on HTC smartphones, simulating both the network operations and the phones’ connection to the providers. As the test revealed that “the phones communicated to the base station that they cannot do” the particular operations mentioned in the patent and that, in any case, “Italian providers don’t ask them to do” said operations, the Court excluded the occurrence of both a direct and an indirect infringement of IPCom’s EP ‘692 patent.

This passage of the decision highlighted a circumstance that is often disregarded in the SEPs discourse: namely that technically-essential patents may be indeed essential, but in relation to portions of the standard that are only optionally implemented in compliant products.

In light of the above, the Court of Milan seems to have stepped away from a previous case law of 2008, where – in line with the technical report drafted by Court-appointed expert – it established infringement of a standard-essential patent by referring only to its essentiality and to the product’s necessary compliance to the standard: a sort of presumptive assessment of the infringement (see Court of Milan, 8 May 2008, Italtel s.p.a. et al. v. Sisvel s.p.a et al.; similar reasoning were put forward – although in preliminary injunction matters – also by Court of Genoa, 8 May 2004, Koniklijke Philips Electronics N.V. v. Computer Support Italcard s.r.l., in Giur. ann. dir. ind. 2006, 4949; Court of Trieste, 23 August 2011, Telefoaktiebolaget L.M. Ericsson v. ONDA Communication s.p.a. ,in Giur. ann. dir. ind. 2013, 5951).

The approach here suggested by the Court of Milan in determining the infringement of SEPs seems to better take into account the inherent technical and legal nuances of the standard setting dynamics, where the possibility of the so-called “over-disclosure” phenomenon — i.e. claiming essentiality for non-essential patents – is considered to be wide spread, and where specific technical features may often be only “optionally” implemented within standard-compliant products.

Giovanni Trabucco

Court of Milan, IP division, decision of 21 September 2016, No. 10288

Birkenstock fails to register as a trademark its shoes’ sole pattern

European Union General Court, 9 November 2016, Case T-579/14, Birkenstock Sales GmbH v EUIPO


By its judgement of 9 November 2016 the European Union General Court confirmed the refusal of protection of the international trademark registration of the Birkenstock sole pattern presenting wavy lines crisscrossing at right angles in a repetitive sequBirkenstock imageence.

The GC agreed with the assessment of the EUIPO Board of Appeal that the trade mark in question was devoid of any distinctive character in respect of orthopaedic shoes and parts therefor.

The GC found that the repetitive sequence could extend infinitely in all four directions of the square and therefore be applied to any two- or three-dimensional surface.

Thus the sign at issue would be perceived immediately as representing a surface pattern.

It observed that the case-law relating to signs that are indissociable from the appearance of the products should be applicable in the case at issue.

Such case-law stated that as the average consumers do not usually presume the commercial origin of goods on the basis of the signs that are indissociable from the goods themselves, those signs will have distinctive character only if they depart signicantly from the sectorial standards or usual practices (judgments of 12 January 2006, Deutsche SiSi-Werke v OHIM, C‑173/04 P, EU:C:2006:20, paragraph 31, and 22 June 2006, Storck v OHIM, C‑25/05 P, EU:C:2006:422, paragraph 28).

In the judgment of 19 September 2012, Fraas v OHIM, “Tartan pattern in dark grey, light grey, black, beige, dark red and light red” (T‑50/11) the Court already applied such a test  in the case of a figurative mark consisting of a part of the shape of the product that it represents, inasmuch as the relevant public will immediately and without further thought perceive it as a representation of a particularly interesting or attractive detail of the product in question, rather than as an indication of its commercial origin.

According to such case law, the court concluded that it was well known that the surfaces of goods or their packaging are decorated with patterns for a variety of reasons, including enhancing their aesthetic appearance and/or for technical reasons.

The decision has been appealed before the ECJ (C-26/17 P).

This is not the first case addressing whether an outsole is capable of functioning as a trademark. Many will remenber that Louboutin, the renowned footwear brand based in Paris, registered as a trademark the bright-red lacquered sole featuring its luxury footwear and filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Yves Saint Laurent, Zara and other competitors, in a number of countries, including Swiss, France, Germany, Belgium and the United States. In these cases, however, the limits of the protection granted to the colour red contained in a trademark were at issue, with very different outcomes.

Just for mention the most significant findings, the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals (No. 11-3303, 2013) found that the Red Sole Trademark had acquired secondary meaning, but only to the extent the sole did contrast with the upper part of a shoe (i.e., not in case of monochromatic red shoes). On the contrary, The Swiss Federal Administrative Court ruled that the red soles are merely a decoration, ineligible for trademark protection (decision B-6219/2013) and the French Supreme Court (may 30, 2012) stated the 3D mark could not be registered because the shape lacks distinctiveness and is imposed by its function.

Jacopo Ciani