ECJ opens door for wine mark registrations

European Union

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that a trademark registry may accept an application for a mark made in respect of wine and including a geographical name that is not a specified geographical reference under European law if the mark is not likely to influence consumers' economic behaviour. The ECJ ruled that it is a matter for the national courts to decide.

Borie Manoux SARL filed an application to register in France the mark LES CADETS D'AQUITAINE for a wine made in the Bergerac region in southwest France. The French Industrial Property Office refused the registration on the grounds that the mark could lead consumers to believe that Aquitaine is a wine-growing 'specified region' as defined in Council Regulation 2392/89 on the description of wines. Article 11 of the regulation provides that the labelling of quality wines (eg, Bergerac wine) must comprise the name of the region from which they originate. However, although the Aquitaine region encompasses smaller regions known for their vintages, it does not correspond to a specified region of origin as defined in Article 11.

The case eventually reached France's highest court, the Court of Cassation. The court referred to the ECJ for a preliminary ruling the question of whether the EU regulation prohibits the registration of LES CADETS D'AQUITAINE.

The ECJ ruled that such a registration is not prohibited, unless there is a real risk that use of the mark will lead consumers to believe that Aquitaine is a wine-growing specified region and, as a result, alter their economic behaviour. It is up to the French courts to make this determination.

Marc-Roger Hirsch, Cabinet Hirsch & Associés, Paris

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