Brewer banned from naming product 'Champagnebier'


Applying Belgian law on geographical indications and fair trade practices, the Nivelles Commercial Court has ordered SA de Landtsheer Emmanuel to cease using the word 'champagne' in relation to its new product, as well as the slogan 'the beer world's answer to Veuve Cliquot' (RG A/02/01496).

SA de Landtsheer began producing a brand of beer, called 'champagnebier', using a new brewing method. Its advertising compared the method to that used by wine producers in the Champagne region of France. Veuve Cliquot Ponsardin and its professional association Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne objected to the use of the word 'champagne' and related expressions.

Under the Belgian Trademark Act of April 18 1927, geographical indications are protected once they have been notified to the Belgian government. 'Champagne' has been protected as a geographical indication in Belgium for over 70 years.

Nevertheless, the court found that in order to determine the scope of the protection, it must refer to the law of the country of origin of the geographical indication. The French law concerning the protection of geographical indications for wine provides that they must not be used for any similar product, or other product or service, if the use is likely to result (i) in an appropriation of the reputation of the geographical indication, or (ii) in the weakening of its reputation. The court concluded that the use of the word 'champagnebier' could appropriate or weaken the reputation of the geographical indication 'champagne'.

The court also decided that phrases like 'traditional method' and the slogan 'the beer world's answer to Veuve Cliquot' could mislead the public as to the nature, composition, origin, production method or other characteristics of the product. Such misleading references are prohibited by the Fair Trade Practices Act of July 14 1991.

Christine De Keersmaeker, De Keersmaeker Vromans, Brussels

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