Melitta wins big award in metatag case

Denmark

In Melitta v Coffilter International (HR 36/2001 1.afd), the Danish Supreme Court has ruled that the defendant's use of the MELITTA mark a number of times in its website's hidden metatags infringed the plaintiff's trademark rights because it constituted commercial use within the meaning of the Danish Trademark Act.

In the 1970s Melitta was granted a patent on a pyramid-shaped funnel used to make coffee. This patent expired in 1993. In 1997 Coffilter began producing a similar funnel under the trademark KVADRAT. In order to make internet users aware of its product, Coffilter used the expression 'Melitta type' in its website's hidden metatags, as well as the numbers 202, 206 and 220 (ie, the sizes of Melitta's filters). Melitta brought suit for trademark infringement, arguing that Coffilter's use of the MELITTA mark and its filter sizes constituted commercial use within the meaning of the Trademark Act.

The Maritime and Commercial Court partially agreed with Melitta, finding that Coffilter's use of the MELITTA mark as a hidden word in a metatag was illegal, and awarded Melitta Dkr500,000 (about $65,000) in compensation. However, it held that Coffilter's use of the numbers 202, 206 and 220 did not infringe Melitta's rights because the numbers are not sufficiently distinctive to give rise to trademark rights. The case was appealed to the High Court.

The High Court affirmed the lower court's ruling, noting that Coffilter may use its competitor's trademark to indicate that its product is similar to Melitta's product. However, the court went on to state that had Coffilter arranged for its website to come up first in a search engine when searching the word 'Melitta', this would have amounted to unfair use and therefore trademark infringement.

On appeal to the Supreme Court, the High Court's decision was upheld but the level of compensation was fixed at Dkr100,000.

Christian Levin Nielsen, Zacco Advocater, Copenhagen

Get unlimited access to all WTR content