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 filmakerz.org.

The users of filmakerz.org 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 filmakerz.org.

Following further investigations, the Tax Police found out that after the first instance request, the websites filmakerz.org and the affiliated websites filmakerz.me and filmkerz.biz, automatically redirected to the website cineteka.org. According to the Tax Police, it was highly reasonable that all the domains were managed by the same person (filmakerz.org‘s holder), who set the redirection to bypass any possible block applied against filmakerz.org 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 filmakerz.org, filmakerz.me, filmkerz.biz and cineteka.org 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 Kit Kat case: the famous chocolate bar doesn’t deserve to be protected as a trademark

On 20 January 2016 the England and Wales High Court (Chancery Division) issued its final decision on the Kit Kat case (the text is available here) dismissing the appeal filed by Société des Produits Nestlé SA (Nestlé) against the decision by which the Trademark Office rejected the trademark application for registration of the famous four stripes chocolate bar.

Preliminarily, it must be emphasized that the trademark application rejected by the Office concerned the three-dimensional sign corresponding to the shape of Nestlé’s four-finger KIT KAT product without the KIT KAT logo normally embossed onto each of the fingers of the product. This circumstance was decisive for both the decision of the English Court and that of the EU Court of Justice to which the former had applied for a preliminary ruling.

  kitkat

The dispute started in 2011 when Cadbury UK Ltd (Cadbury) filed a notice of opposition against Nestlé’s trademark application for infringement of

  • Article 3.1 lett. b) and lett. e), sub i) and ii) of Directive 2008/95/EU, according to which a trademark which is devoid of any distinctive character or which consists exclusively of the shape which results from the nature of the goods themselves or the shape of goods which is necessary to obtain a technical result shall not be registered or, if registered, shall be liable to be declared invalid, and
  • Article 3.3 of Directive 2008/95/EU, which provides that the registration shall not be refused or the trademark shall not be declared invalid if following the use which has been made of the trademark, it has acquired (before or after the date of application for registration or after the date of registration) a distinctive character (the so called “secondary meaning“).

In 2014 the England and Wales High Court (Chancery Division) addressed the CJEU for a clarification, in order to determine the appeals filed both by Nestlé and Cadbury against the Trade Marks Registry of the United Kingdom Intellectual Property Office’s decision issued in 2013. In its  decision, the Office had held that the Nestlé’s trademark was devoid of inherent distinctive character and had not acquired a distinctive character in relation to all goods covered by the application except for “cakes” and “pastries” and that the trademark consisted exclusively of the shape which was necessary to obtain a technical result.

 The CJEU’s decision

The Court of Justice’s decision was delivered on 16 September 2015 (available here) and has undergone many critics probably because it has determined the rejection by the English Court of the registration of the famous chocolate bar.

The decision, on one hand, is convincing where it states that the proof of the use of a shape trademark can be given also through the proof of the use as part of another trademark or in conjunction with such a mark (Nestlé’s trademark application for registration concerned, as said,  the shape of the bar without the KIT KAT logo). On the other hand, by affirming that the occurrence of  “secondary meaning” can be ascertained only by proving that the relevant class of persons (that is the “average consumer of the category of goods or services in question, who is reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant and circumspect”, and not also the trader) perceive the goods or services designated exclusively by the trademark applied for, as opposed to any other mark which might also be present, as originating from a particular company, the Court has given a very restrictive interpretation of the function of the trademark, since it seemingly excludes that the association of the shape with the trademark owned by the company is enough to assess the acquisition of the distinctive character.

The Court was requested of a preliminary ruling also about the obstacles under Article 3.1 lett. e) of Directive 2008/95/EU. On this point, it confirmed its previous case law according to which the grounds for refusal of registration set out by the provision operate independently of one another and it is sufficient that one of them is fully applicable to the shape at issue for precluding registration as a trademark of a sign consisting exclusively of the shape of goods (even in a case such the KIT KAT one), where that shape contains three essential features, one of which results from the nature of the goods themselves (the basic rectangular slab shape of the Nestlé’s chocolate bar) and two are necessary to obtain a technical result (the presence of the grooves running along the length of the bar, which, together with the width of the bar, determine the number of ‘fingers’).

 The English Court’s decision

However, in its final decision the English Court not only ignored the issue concerning the necessity to obtain a technical result but didn’t consider the case law, also recalled by the Court of Justice, according to which a sign which is refused registration under Article 3.1 lett. e) of Directive 2008/95/EU can never acquire a distinctive character (that is a “secondary meaning”) for the purposes of Article 3.3 (see C-299/99 Philips case, point 57 and 75; C-53/01 Linde case, point 44, C-371/06 Benetton case point 23-28 and C-48/09 Lego case point 47). Thus, the Court dismissed the appeal exclusively on the basis of the lack of proof of the consumer’s perception of the goods as originating from Nestlé.

Both decisions evidence, once again, how difficult is to validly register shape trademarks – especially shape trademarks concerning amorphous products like those in the food industry (however, the Court of Justice confirmed that the criteria for assessing the distinctive character of three-dimensional trademarks consisting of the shape of the product itself are not different from those applicable to all other categories of trademarks).

                                                                                                             Sara Caselli

England and Wales High Court (Chancery Division), 20 January 2016, Société Des Produits Nestlé SA v. Cadbury Uk Ltd

CJUE confirms that Adidas may oppose the registration, as a Community mark, of parallel stripes placed on the side of sports shoes: the degree of attention of the average consumers in purchasing “sport shoes” (second episode)

On 17 February 2016 the Court of Justice of the European Union (Case C-396/15, full text here), confirmed a decision of the General Court (commented on this blog) upholding Adidas’ opposition against Shoe Branding’s Community trademark (“CTM”) application for two stripes positioned on a shoe.

Adidas

The General Court found that “the difference in length of the stripes arising from their difference in inclination are minor differences between the marks at issue that will not be noticed by the consumer with an average degree of attention and will not influence the overall impression those marks produce on account of the presence of wide sloping stripes on the outside of the shoe”.

The CJUE’s order confirmed the General Court’s finding that the trademark applied for was similar to Adidas’ 3-stripes mark on footwear, and that there was both a likelihood of confusion and dilution under Articles 8(1)(b) and 8(5) of the CTM Regulation.

The Court states that since the General Court held that the differences between two and three stripes and in the length of the stripes were not sufficient to affect the similarities arising from the configuration of the signs at issue, it did conduct the overall assessment requested by the law and, therefore, did not err in law.

Unfortunately, the Court dismissed the ground of appeal relating to the General Court’s observation that the degree of attention of the average consumer of sports clothing is low, as the appellant did not indicate which paragraphs of the judgement under appeal it disagreed with or in any other manner substantiate its argument.

As noted in our previous comment, while the Board of Appeal stated that the average consumer is accustomed to seeing geometric designs on shoes and pays attention to the details of “sport shoes”, the General Court judged that since “sport shoes” are everyday consumer goods, the relevant public is made of the average consumer with an average degree of attention.

We were wondering how to reconcile what the General Court stated in his decision with the principles stated in decisions which have admitted that, with respect to famous trademarks, the public knows almost every detail and, therefore, can more easily recognize ad distinguish imitations, so that the risk of confusion between the signs is more difficult to occur (see Claude Ruiz-Picasso and Others, T-185/02, 22 June 2004, confirmed by C-361/04, 12 January 2006).

Even if the case demonstrates that position marks and other non-traditional trademarks can be very effective tools for famous brand owners to use against those who copy their trade dress in the EU, we reiterate our doubts regarding the degree of attention of the average consumer when purchasing “sport shoes” or, better perhaps, “sneaker” (normally bought by boys or girls very detail-oriented).

Finally, it must be noted that according to this case-law the extent of the exclusive right granted to Adidas by a position mark is very strong. Too much ?

Order of the Court of 17 February 2016 in Case C-396/15, Shoe Branding Europe BVBA v. Adidas AG

Gianluca De Cristofaro

The Coca-Cola contour bottle without fluting cannot be a valid three-dimensional trademark according to the EU General Court

On 29 December 2011 The Coca-Cola Company filed an application at OHIM for registration of a Community trademark of the following three-dimensional sign consisting of the shape of a bottle (on the left), a variation of the popular Coca-Cola contour bottle with fluting (on the right):
bottle 1.pngbottle 2.jpg

On January 2013 the examiner dismissed the application having found that the mark applied for was devoid of distinctive character (under Article 7 (a)(b) of regulation No 207/2009) and had not acquired said character through use (under Article 7(3)). The applicant filed a notice of appeal with OHIM against the examiner’s decision, which was however dismissed by the OHIM Board of Appeal.

Against the decision of the Board of Appeal The Coca-Cola Company brought action before the EU General Court, which on 24 February 2016 (in case T-411/14, full text here) entirely dismissed the appeal and, as a consequence, confirmed the previous ruling of OHIM Board Appeal.

With two pleas Coca-Cola claimed: (a) that the mark it applied for has a distinctive character, being a natural evolution of the shape of the bottle “contour” with fluting which is popular and distinctive worldwide; and (b) that in any event mark it applied for has acquired distinctive character throughout the use in the market in combination with the contour bottle with fluting.

 Taking into account the first plea, the General Court recalled that the distinctive character must be assessed by reference to (i) the goods or services in respect of which registration has been applied for, and (ii) the perception of them by the relevant public.

More specifically, it emphasized, when those criteria are applied account must be taken of the perception of the average consumer  in relation to a three-dimensional mark consisting of the appearance of the goods themselves: in this respect average consumers are not in the habit of making assumptions about the origin of goods on the basis of their shape or the shape of their packaging in the absence of any word or graphic element, and it could therefore prove more difficult to establish distinctive character in relation to such a three-dimensional mark than in relation to a word or figurative mark.

Then, the Court examined the mark applied for, founding that either the lower, the middle and the top section of the bottle (i) do not enable the average consumer to infer the commercial origin of the goods concerned and (ii) do not display any particular features which stand out from what is available on the market.

Therefore, considering the mark applied for as a whole, the Court held that it is devoid of distinctive character for being a mere variant of the shape and packaging of the goods concerned, which will not enable the average consumer to distinguish the goods of Coca-Cola from those of other undertakings.

In considering the second plea, the Court underlined that for the mark to have acquired distinctiveness through use, Coca-Cola has the burden to demonstrate that at least a significant proportion of the relevant public throughout the European Union, by virtue of that mark, identifies the goods or services concerned as originating from Coca-Cola.

In evaluating that, the Court examined all the items of evidence already provided by Coca-Cola to the OHIM Board of Appeal, founding that none of them, considered both in isolation and as a whole, was sufficient to establish that the mark applied for has acquired distinctive through use.

In particular, the surveys submitted by the applicant covered only a part of the European Union (only 10 of 27 Member States) and the other secondary evidences such as investments, sales figures, advertising and articles did not, due to their imprecisions and inconsistencies, compensate for that deficiency: For example, the sales figures proved that Coca-Cola has sold large beverages throughout the EU, but the data provided referred to the ‘contour bottle’ without specifying whether that means the mark applied for or the contour bottle with fluting, consequently it does not enable a conclusion to be drawn regarding the relevant public’s perception of the three-dimensional sign applied for.

Furthermore, the Court pointed out that in general a three dimensional mark may acquire distinctive character through use, even if it is used in conjunction with a word mark or a figurative mark, when the relevant class of persons actually perceive the goods or services, designated exclusively by the mark applied for, as originating from a given undertaking (as stated in case C-353/03, Nestlè SA v. Mars UK Ltd). However, in the case in point the Court noted that the mark which Coca-Cola applied for was not clearly distinguishable from the mark it was alleged to be a part of, due to the fact that it was not obvious from the evidence provided by the applicant and particularly from the advertising material, whether the bottle that is shown in them is a representation of the contour bottle with fluting, or a representation of the mark applied for.

In view of the above, the General Court found that the mark Coca-Cola applied for has not even acquired distinctive character.

We can only agree with the whole outcome: to grant a trade mark in these circumstances would have given a perpetual monopoly to Coca-Cola in the shape of a bottle that is very commonplace on the market. The General Court set forth its arguments in a commendable way without being affected by the global popularity of Coca-Cola and its famous iconic bottle contour with fluting.

It remains to be seen whether, within two months of notification of the decision, Coca-Cola appeal the decision of the General Court to the Court of Justice of the European Union.

It may be not a coincidence and neither a déjà vu, but in the 1986 the House of Lord (Coca-Cola Co.’s Application [1986] 2 All ER 274) denied the Coca-Cola Company trademark protection for shape and design of the Coke bottle, assuming that it was “another attempt to expand on the boundaries of intellectual property and to convert a protective law into a source of monopoly”.

Matteo Aiosa

General Court of EU (Eight Chamber), The Coca-Cola Company v. Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market, 24 February 2016, case T-411/14

CJEU on liability for trademark infringement in online advertising

Daimler, a motor vehicle manufacturer and owner of the well-known trademark “Mercedes-Benz” brought an action before Budapest Municipal Court against Együd Garage, a former authorized dealer, seeking, first, a declaration that Együd Garage infringed the trademark Mercedes-Benz by the online advertisements and, secondly, an order to Együd Garage to remove the advertisements at issue, refrain from further infringements and publish a corrigendum in the national and regional press.

In fact, after the termination of the contract that entitled Együd Garage to use the trademark Mercedes-Benz for describing itself as ‘felhatalmazott Mercedes Benz szerviz’ (‘authorised Mercedes-Benz dealer’) in its own advertisements, Daimler discovered on Internet a number of advertisements still naming Együd Garage as an authorised Mercedes-Benz dealer.

Együd Garage’s defence was that, apart from the advertisement that appeared on one website, it did not place any other advertisements on the internet and that those at issue appeared or still appear contrary to its intention, without it having any influence on their content, publication or removal.

Furthermore, the former dealer wrote to the operators of several other websites requesting the removal of online advertisements which had been published without its consent.

In those circumstances, the Budapest Municipal Court decided to refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union for a preliminary ruling.

‘Must Article 5(1)(b) of [Directive 89/104] be interpreted as meaning that the trade mark proprietor is entitled to prevent a third party named in an advertisement on the internet, even though the advertisement was not placed on the internet by the person featuring in it or on his behalf, or it is possible to access that advertisement on the internet despite the fact that the person named in it took all reasonable steps to have it removed, but did not succeed in doing so.

On 3 March 2016 the Court of Justice of the European Union (Case C-179/15, full text here), stated that the publication on a website of an advertisement referring to a trade mark constitutes a use of that trademark by an advertiser who has ordered it. However, the appearance of the trademark on the site in question no longer constitutes a “use by the advertiser” where he has expressly requested the operator of the site, from whom he had ordered the advertisement, to remove it and the operator has disregarded that request. It is apparently the first time that the CJEU focuses on the assessment of the tort on subjective behaviour.

The ruling addresses the notion of “trademark use” in online advertising.

According to the CJUE “using” a trade mark in the meaning of Article 5(1) of the Directive 2008/95/EC “involves active behaviour and direct or indirect control of the act constituting the use. However, that is not the case if that act is carried out by an independent operator without the consent of the advertiser, or even against his express will”.

Accordingly, where that online advertising provider fails to comply with the advertiser’s request to remove the advertisement at issue or the reference to the mark contained therein, the publication of that reference on the referencing website can no longer be regarded as a use of the mark by the advertiser. Thus, the latter cannot be held liable for the acts and omissions of operators of other websites who, without his consent, have put the advertisement on their own site.

However, the CJEU states that the proprietor of the trademark may, first, claim reimbursement from the advertiser for any financial benefit that he may obtain from advertisements still online and, secondly, bring proceedings against operators of websites that infringe the rights connected with its trade mark.

Gianluca De Cristofaro

CJEU C-179/15, Daimler AG v. Együd Garage Gépjárműjavító és Értékesítő Kft.

The General Court of the EU admits the registration of a trademark which evokes a shape

On September 13 and 15, 2011, the Perfetti Van Melle Spa filed two applications at Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (OHIM) for the registration of the word signs “Daisy” and “Margaritas” as community trademarks for confectionary products.

The OHIM and its Board of Appeal rejected both the applications on the basis that the signs didn’t have distinctive character compared to the products since (i) they were attributable to a name of a very common flower, and (ii) confectionary products in the form of a flower were already present on the market.

By a decision of December 16, 2015, in the joined cases T-381/13 and T-382/13 (full text here), the General Court of the EU affirmed the validity of the registration of “Daisy” and “Margaritas” trademarks and, as a consequence, annulled the decisions of the OHIM Board of Appeal.

The EU Court held that the signs “Daisy” and “Margaritas” do not meet the condition for refusal under article 7, (1), c), of the Community Trademark Regulation 2009/207/EC, because neither the term “Daisy” nor “Margaritas” have a sufficiently direct relationship between the mark and the goods. In fact, the meaning of such signs does not necessarily indicate confectionary products, while the fact that consumers may often intend such trademarks as a shape of confectionary products is not relevant.

In particular, the Court argued that both the mentioned words have some other meanings that consumers may keep in mind besides the form of a flower, for example the term “Daisy” refers to a female name or a cartoon character, whereas the term “Margaritas” refers to a female name or a popular cocktail.

Furthermore, the Court pointed out that the Board of Appeal failed to provide evidences of the fact that the shape of a daisy flower is widely used in the confectionery sector. Therefore, the circumstance that consumers have occasionally seen sweets in a form of flower and precisely in a daisy form is not sufficiently decisive to conclude that consumers, facing the terms “Daisy” and “Margaritas”, immediately recall such confectionary products.

In the light of the above, the Court held that the signs “Daisy” and “Margaritas”, used for confectionary products, have a minimum of distinctiveness. Thus, there was no reason for refusal of registration under article 7, (1), b), of the Community Trademark Regulation 2009/207/EC.

In sum, the Court recognized in principle, a ‘sufficient minimum’ of distinctiveness is recognised – allowing the registration – when there is no univocal identification between the verbal sign and a certain kind of a product. However, the doubt arises that if said minimum of distinctiveness concerns the shape of a product, the registration as a trademark involves an exclusiveness of potentially unlimited duration on the shape itself. Now, wouldn’t this risk preempting and bypassing the – more limited – protection by registration as a design (Directive 98/71), thus eventually produce an undue anti-competitive result?

General Court of EU (EGC), Perfetti Van Melle Spa v. Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market, 16 December 2015, Cases T-381/13 and T-382/13.

Matteo Aiosa

Right to be forgotten: the first Italian decision after Google Spain

By its judgment of 3 December 2015 (full text here), the Court of Rome issued the first decision of an Italian court dealing with the so called “right to be forgotten” after the ECJ leading case of 13 May 2014, C- 131/12, Google Spain SL, Google Inc. v Agencia Española de Protección de Datos, Costeja Mario González.

The applicant, a lawyer, sued Google, asking the de-listing of 14 links resulting from a list of results displayed following a search made on the basis of his name, on the assumption of the existence of a right to be forgotten. He argued that the links were referring to a court case dating back to the years 2012/2013 and dealing with an alleged fraud in which he was involved (but never condemned) with some representatives of the clergy and other subjects linked to the criminal organization known as “Banda della Magliana”. As a consequence, the lawyer called for the monetary compensation due to the illegal treatment of its personal data.

The Court of Rome dismissed the plaintiff’s request on the assumption that the disclosed personal data were both recent and of public interest.

The Court based its decision on the principles recently recognized by the Court of Justice in Google Spain (and already accepted by Italian previous case law, cfr. Cass. Civ. Sec. III, 05-04-2012, n. 5525).

In this case the ECJ ruled that the data subject may, in the light of his fundamental rights under Articles 7 and 8 of the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights (and in application of Article 12(b) and subparagraph (a) of the first paragraph of Article 14 of Directive 95/46/EC), request that the personal data in question no longer be made available to the general public by its inclusion in such a list of results. However, inasmuch as the removal of links from the list of results could, depending on the information at issue, have effects upon the legitimate interest of internet users potentially interested in having access to that information, “a fair balance should be sought in particular between that interest and the data subject’s fundamental rights under Articles 7 and 8 of the Charter” (par. 81).

Whilst “it should be held that those rights override, as a rule, not only the economic interest of the operator of the search engine but also the interest of the general public in finding that information upon a search relating to the data subject’s name”, the Court also recognised the existence of an exception to this general rule when “for particular reasons, such as the role played by the data subject in public life […], the interference with [the] fundamental rights [of the data subject] is justified by the preponderant interest of the general public in having, on account of [the] inclusion [of the information] in the list of results, access to the information in question” (par. 97).

The Article 29 Data Protection Working Party (hereinafter only “WP”) in its Guidelines on the implementation of the ECJ Judgement on Google Spain, adopted on 26 November 2014 for the purpose of establishing a list of common criteria to be used by European data protection authorities to evaluate whether data protection law has been complied with, stated that “no single criterion is, in itself, determinative”.

However among these criteria there are both whether the data are temporally relevant and not  excessive (i.e. closely related to the data’s age) and whether the data subject play a role in public life (s.c. public figures criterion).

With reference to the second criterion, even if it is not possible to establish with certainty the type of role in public life an individual must have to justify public access to information about them via a search result, the WP pointed out that “by way of illustration, politicians, senior public officials, business-people and members of the (regulated) professions can usually be considered to fulfil a role in public life”.

Under this test, the Court of Rome rejected the plaintiff’s request on the assumption that the treated personal data were both recent and of public interest and denied that the data subject had a right that the information relating to him should, at this point in time, no longer be linked to his name.

The decision can be welcomed to the extent it shows the benefits of the process of EU harmonization realized by means of the interpretative ruling of the ECJ and of the WP on the right to prevent indexing of personal data published on third parties’ web pages.

The judgement, in any case, works in the direction to limit the scope of application of the right to consign personal data to oblivion, since it affirms that the “public figure role” can be recognized not only to politicians and public officials but also to the large class of “business-people”, belonging to regulated professional orders.

Jacopo Ciani

Court of Rome, 3 December 2015, No. 23771, Dott.ssa Damiana Colla

The CJEU sheds light on the way to calculate the term of SPCs

Article 13 (1) of Regulation EC No. 469/2009 (concerning the supplementary protection certificate for medicinal products, “SPC”) provides that SPCs are calculated on the basis of “the date of first authorisation to place the product one the market in the Community”. Existing SPC regulation is however ambiguous on this point and EU member states have adopted divergent practices.

By decision of 2 October 2014 the Oberlandesgericht Wien has referred questions to CJEU on a preliminary ruling regarding the calculation of SPCs term under Article 13 (1) of Regulation EC No. 469/2009.

The referral concerned two queries: a) whether the date of an MA (Market Authorization) has to be determined according to Community law or that of the member state where the SPC application is filed; b) whether (under Community law) “the date of the first authorisation” – as per Article 13(1) of the Regulation – is the date the MA actually issued or the date the applicant is notified.

The CJEU issued its Decision on 6 October 2015 in the case C-471/14, Seattle Genetics Inc. v Österreichisches Patentamt (full text here).

Confirming both the conclusions and the arguments submitted by the Advocate General Niilo Jääskinen in his Opinion as of September 10, 2015, the Court clarified: a) that, since Article 13(1) of aforesaid Regulation contains no express reference to the laws of the member states, it is necessary to adopt an independent and uniform interpretation that will be valid throughout the EU; b) that the date of the first authorisation is a matter of Community law, not of the legislation of the member state where the marketing authorisation has effect. The Court declared that the EU legislator chose to use the Regulation as the legal instrument to create a standard SPCs system.

In evaluating the second question, the CJEU further pointed out that SPCs were created to ensure sufficient protection to encourage pharmaceutical research, in light of the fact the period of exclusivity granted by patents concerning pharmaceutical products is insufficient to cover the R&D investment necessary.

In this context, the right to market a new drug arises on the date the patent holder becomes aware that the MA has been issued.

The Court therefore answered the second question by confirming that it is the date of notification of the MA that is to be considered the “date of the first authorisation”, this is the date to be taken into account in calculating the term of SPC.

As a result of this ruling, SPCs holders will benefit from a longer term of protection – by up to some weeks. Furthermore, a number of SPCs will likely need to have their duration recalculated.

 Matteo Aiosa

Court of Justice, Eighth Chamber, 6 October 2015, C-471/14, Seattle Genetics Inc. v Österreichisches Patentamt.

Huawei v. ZTE: Enforcing standard-essential patents as abuse of dominance

Following the request for a preliminary ruling issued by the Landgericht of Düsseldorf (Germany), on July 16th 2015, the European Court of Justice addressed the question whether or not, and at what conditions, the firm holding a standard-essential patent (SEP: namely, a patent essential to produce manufactures in compliance with a particular standard), which has committed to grant a license to third parties on FRAND terms, abuses its dominant position by seeking injunctions against alleged infringers (decision available here).

The long-awaited judgment of the Court confirms the general approach adopted by the Commission in both Motorola and Samsung cases (available here and here). However, while the Commission had merely stated that enforcing a SEP in court can constitute an abuse of dominance under certain circumstances, the ECJ decision goes further, clarifying what those circumstances are. In particular, the Court held that seeking an injunction against an alleged infringer does not violate competition law when the following conditions are met:

  1. prior to bringing the action, the SEP holder has informed the alleged infringer of the violation of its intellectual property right, specifying the mode of infringement;
  2. the SEP holder has presented a written offer for a license on FRAND terms to the “infringer” (which has previously expressed its intention to conclude a license agreement). The offer must include all the relevant conditions of the agreement, in particular the royalty rate applied and the way it is calculated;
  3. the potential licensee has not “diligently responded to [patent owner’s] offer in accordance with recognized commercial practices in the field and in good faith”, and has continued to use the protected technology.

The decision of the Court of Justice seems to subordinate the finding of abuse to the “bad faith” of both SEP owners and producers of standard-based products. On the one hand, the formers have to concretely fulfill the obligation to the standardization bodies consisting in giving a license on FRAND conditions to third parties. Indeed, a patent cannot obtain the SEP status unless the legitimate holder undertakes to grant a FRAND license to anyone who may require it, in order to prevent the SEP holder from “reserv[ing] to itself the manufacture of the products in question”. Thus, it is not surprising that, according to the ECJ, the patent owner may incur in an abuse of dominance if it seeks an infringement injunction without even submitting a licensing agreement to the alleged infringer.

On the other hand, the ECJ imposes the obligation of good faith also to the potential licensee, which – having decided not to accept the offer submitted by the patent owner – “may rely on the abusive nature of an action for a prohibitory injunction or for the recall of products only if it has submitted to the proprietor of the SEP in question, promptly and in writing, a specific counter-offer that corresponds to FRAND terms”.

The ECJ judgment has definitely the merit of striking a reasonable balance between the interests at stake: those of the potential (and willing) licensees, which supposedly made specific investments relying on the FRAND license promised by the SEP holder; and those of the SEP holder itself, which should be granted the right to effectively protect its intellectual property rights from free-riders.

Nonetheless, the intervention of European judges leaves some issues unsolved. Firstly, the decision does not explain when a license can be considered FRAND. Secondly, it does not answer the question whether holding a SEP implies, per se, a dominant position on the market (actually, the referring court had not asked about the finding of dominance). At first glance, there seems to be the glimmer of an opening for such a conclusion. A passage of the sentence, in fact, reads as follows: “[…] the patent at issue is essential to a standard established by a standardization body, rendering its use indispensable to all competitors which envisage manufacturing products that comply with the standard to which it is linked. That features distinguishes SEPs from patents that are non essential to a standard and which normally allow third parties to manufacture competing products without recourse to the patent concerned and without compromising the essential functions of the product in question” (emphasis added). This appears quite close to an irrebuttable presumption of dominance. A debatable position: in my view, the presumption should be rebuttable (as suggested by the Advocate General Whatalet in his opinion, available here), hence the judges should continue assessing, case-by-case, a situation of actual, effective dominance.

Piera Francesca Piserà

CJEU, 16 July 2015, case C-170/2013, Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. v. ZTE Deutschland GmbH.

Topographic maps as databases: CJEU

The CJEU ruled that topographic maps may fall within database protection under Directive 96/9 (full text here). The dispute concerned the use by Verlag Esterbauer, an Austrian travel books publisher, of certain topographic maps published by the Land of Bavaria. In particular, Verlag Esterbauer scanned the maps and extracted the underlying geographic data with a graphics programme to produce and market its own maps dedicated to walkers and cyclists.

According to the Court, the concept of “database” must be interpreted widely, as collections of works and/or other data, in any form, without technical or material restrictions, therefore applying also to analog databases. Indeed, the Court stressed the “functional” nature of database protection and its aim at fostering investment in data processing systems.

The main requirement of a database under Art. 1(2) of Directive 96/9 is the existence of “independent materials”, i.e. separable without affecting their value. Independent materials can also consist of combination of pieces of information, if they have autonomous informative value after being extracted. This may be the case of geographical information (e.g., “geographical coordinates point” plus “the numbered code used by the map producer to designate a unique feature, such as a church”), as long as the extraction of such data from the map does not affect their autonomous value. Under the broad definition of database, this autonomous value shall be assessed vis-à-vis the degree of interest of third parties to the extracted material, irrespective of the fact that such value might diminish after the extraction.

The Court found that in the captioned case: (i) Verlag Esterbauer made an autonomous commercial use of the information extracted from the Land of Bavaria’s maps, and (ii) it provided its customers relevant geographical information. Thus, such geographical information constitutes “independent material” from a database.

It seems all too evident that the Court, in line with its settled case-law (see our comments on the Ryanair case here), keeps broadening the notion of database under Directive 96/9 with the aim of further protecting investments in the information market.

Francesco Banterle

CJEU, 29 October 2015, Case C-490/14, Freistaat Bayern v Verlag Esterbauer GmbH