The customs enforcement of intellectual property rights in the EU is governed by Regulation (EU) No 608/2013, which provides that, where Customs Authorities suspect that goods under their supervision infringe intellectual property rights, they may suspend the release of or detain the goods whether at their own initiative or upon application.

Regulation (EU) 2020/1209, published on 21 August 2020, introduced some amendments to the forms to be used to submit an application requesting that Customs Authorities take action with respect to goods suspected of infringing an intellectual property right.

The application requesting that Customs Authorities take action and request for extension of the period during which the Authority are to take action in accordance with a previously granted application must be made by using the standard forms provided for in Regulation (EU) No 1352/2013. More specifically, this Regulation provides three Annexes, regarding respectively:

  • Application for action (Annex I);
  • Request for extension (Annex II);
  • Notes on completion of the two previous forms (Annex III).

Regulation (EU) 2020/1209 has replaced the two forms provided for by Annexes I and II and partially amended the notes on completion provided for by Annex III.

More specifically, the new Regulation takes into account the introduction of the EU Customs Trader Portal for the electronic submission of the forms, thus providing that the Economic Operators Registration and Identification (EORI) number is included in a mandatory field in the box for the applicant and the representative in the forms. The new Regulation also updates the references in the forms to the Data Protection provisions, following the entry into force of Regulations (EU) 2016/679 and (EU) 2018/1725. This new Regulation will enter into force on 10 September 2020 and it will apply from 15 September 2020.

With the decision No. T-156/19, issued on 13 May 2020, the EU General Court confirmed the refusal of the registration of the wordmark “we’re on it” under Article 7(1)(b) EUTMR. The decision provides significant clarification on trademarks consisting of slogans, advertising messages, idiomatic expressions, and indications of quality or incitements to purchase the goods or services which they designate.

Background of the proceedings

On 14 July 2017, the plaintiff, Koenig & Bauer AG, filed a trademark application for the wordmark “we’re on it” for a large number of classes (1, 2, 3, 4, 7, 9, 11, 16, 35, 36, 37, 38, 39, 40, 41, 42), with particular reference to printing machines and related services (such as installation, maintenance and repair of printing machines).

On 20 April 2018, the EUIPO examiner refused the application, considering the mark as devoid of any distinctive character pursuant to Article 7(1)(b) EUTMR. The refusal was confirmed by the Board of Appeal on 19 January 2019. The Board assessed that the sign consisted in a generally used expression, neither rare nor complicated. According to the Board the expression “we’re on it” does not possess a certain originality or resonance and it does not trigger in the minds of the relevant public a cognitive process or requires an interpretative effort.

The applicant filed an appeal before the EU General Court. The Court confirmed the previous decisions, and dismissed the appeal on the basis of the following arguments.

The decision of the EU General Court

The Court referred to case law of the Court of Justice on trademarks consisting of slogans and advertising messages. Indeed, previous rulings of the Court of Justice stated that (i) the registration of a mark made up of signs or indications that are also used as advertising slogans, indications of quality, or incitements to purchase the goods or services covered by that mark is not excluded as such by virtue of such use  (27/05/2018, FEEL FREE, T‑362/17, EU:T:2018:390, p. 28 and case law cited); (ii) when assessing a mark’s distinctive character, applying stricter criteria to slogans than to other types of signs is not appropriate (12/07/12, C-311/11 P, Wir machen das Besondere einfach, EU:C:2012:460 and case law cited); (ii) the lack of distinctiveness cannot be justified by the lack of the element of imagination, of an additional element of originality, or of any conceptual tension which would create surprise thus delivering a striking impression (24/04/2018, WE KNOW ABRASIVES, T‑297/17, EU:T:2018:217, p. 33 and case law cited).

Hence, the Court affirmed that a mark consisting of a commercial slogan is deemed to convey a message about the goods and services for which protection is sought. In the case at issue the sentence “we’re on it” will be understood by the relevant public as “we will take care of it” which is a message that may be used by any supplier on the market in order to incite consumers to purchase goods or services.

The Court held that the idiomatic expression “we’re on it” is too simple and is generated in general terms. Moreover, it has a clear and precise semantic content, whose interpretation does not require considerable mental effort on the part of the relevant consumer. The fact that, as claimed by the plaintiff, the expression at issue could be interpreted in a number of ways, or that it could have several meanings, does not alter its non-distinctive nature. Therefore, the expression “we’re on it” will not be perceived by the public as an indication of the commercial origin of the goods or services claimed, but rather only as a promotional message.

Therefore, the Court concluded that the commercial slogan “we’re on it” lacks distinctive character (pursuant to Article 7(1)(b) EUTMR) and it is not capable of identifying the commercial origin of those goods and services.

 

In view of the 2026 Milan-Cortina Olympic Games, Italian legislators have been revisiting the legislation currently in place and have brought into force some additional and useful measures to protect official advertisers of the Olympics against the so-called ‘ambush marketing’.

On 13 May 2020, Law 31/2020 came into force amending and converting the Law Decree of 11 March 2020, no. 16, which set out urgent provisions relating to the organisation and holding of the 2026 Milan Cortina Winter Olympic and Paralympics Games and the 2021-2025 Turin ATP finals, as well as for the prohibition of parasitic activities.

The origin of the term ‘ambush marketing’ is rooted in the activities which took place around the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles where Kodak sponsored numerous TV programs on the Olympic Games as well as famous American athletes. Kodak thus managed to fill the ‘gaps’ left by the official sponsor, FUJI, thereby giving the impression that it too, was an official sponsor of the Games, although this was not the case. Since then there have been various examples of similar activities both relating to sporting events in Italy as well as during almost all Olympic Games. Famous examples include the Barcelona Olympic Games in 1992, officially sponsored by Visa, whilst however American Express ran a number of TV ads using the tagline ‘You don’t need a Visa to visit Spain’.

In an attempt to contain this phenomenon, the International Olympic Committee guidelines requested future hosting countries to adopt special preventative measures. The issue was first tackled by Italian Legislators with Law 167/2005, issued in view of the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic Games, and now with the recently issued Law 31/2020. The new Italian regulation is fully in line with legislation adopted by other hosting countries to regulate not only the protection of Olympic symbols and investments of official sponsors, but also the organisational and economic aspects of the Games.

Law 31/2020 provides at Art. 10(1) for the prohibition of all parasitic, fraudulent, deceptive or misleading advertising and marketing activities carried out in relation to the organisation of sporting events or exhibitions having national or international resonance, which are not authorised by the organisers and are aimed at obtaining an economic or competitive advantage.

For the first time multiple types of conducts which could amount to parasitic advertising and marketing activities (ambush marketing) are then specifically defined at Art. 10(2):

  1. the creation of an – even indirect – link between a trademark or other distinctive sign and one of the events referred to above, likely to mislead the public as to the identity of the official sponsors;
  2. the false representation or declaration in its own advertising that an entity is an official sponsor of an event referred to above;
  3. the promotion of one’s own trademark or other distinctive sign through any activity, not authorised by the organiser, which is likely to draw the attention of the public, carried out in the context of one of the events referred to above, and likely to generate in the public the mistaken impression that the advertiser is a sponsor of the sporting event or exhibition itself;
  4. the sale and advertising of products or services unlawfully branded, even only in part, with the logo of a sporting event or exhibition referred to above, or with others distinctive signs likely to mislead the public about the logo itself, and to create the mistaken perception of any connection with the event or its organiser or entities authorised by the latter.

Art. 10(3) specifically excludes from the scope of ambush marketing all activities carried out within the performance of sponsorship contracts concluded with individual athletes, teams, artists or authorised participants to an event referred to in Art. 10(1).

The above prohibitions take effect as of the date of registration of the logos, brands and official trademarks of the events referred to in Art. 10(1) and remain in force until 180 days after the end of such events.

Fines for violations of the above provisions can range from Euro 100,000 to Euro 2.5 million, and the enforcement of the new rules is to be carried out by the Italian Competition Authority (AGCM).

Leaving aside the question on whether strictly defining unlawful conduct might be the right approach to regulate the phenomena of ambush marketing, it is worth noting that the formulation of Art. 10(2)(c) requires two conditions to be satisfied by the ambush marketing activities falling under its scope. It requires that the conduct be both:

  • likely to draw public attention; and
  • likely to generate in the public the erroneous impression that the author is sponsor of the event.

This significantly lowers the threshold of protection for organisers. In fact, it potentially enables ambushers to carry out ambush activities lawful merely by using disclaimers specifying they are not the official sponsors of the event at stake.

Critics of the new law also highlight the risk represented by Article 10(3). By establishing that ‘the conducts carried out within the performance of sponsoring contracts with individual athletes, teams, artists or authorised participants to an event referred to in Art. 10(1) do not amount to parasitic activities’ the risk is that of weakening the scope of Article 10 (1) by offering ambushers an easy path to claim that they are carrying out lawful activities by sponsoring e.g. individual athletes. This is precisely what happened in the above-recalled first episode of ambush marketing at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympic Games: a competitor of the official sponsor was indeed sponsoring individual athletes managing to appear in the eyes of the public as a sponsor of the event.

Among the positive aspects of the new regulation, it is worth noting that by protecting the interests of official sponsors, the goal sought by Law 31/2020 is that of boosting the attractiveness of investing in major sporting events, which contribute heavily to the survival of the major sport events such as the Olympic Games.

Furthermore, the extension of the protection period up to 180 days after the end of the events (up from the 90 days’ window set forth by the previous regulation) and the provision that the new rules will be enforced by the Italian Competition Authority through a hopefully fast administrative procedure are seen as improvements in terms of expected effectiveness over the previous attempts at regulating the issue.

However, it is worth bearing in mind that the peculiarities of the phenomenon at stake, in particular creativity and irony characterizing effective ambush marketing campaigns, render any legislation around the issue very delicate and complex. Not surprisingly, a successful and clever ambush marketing campaign often meets the favour and sympathy of the public, so that unless the issue is handled with care the official sponsor risks to be identified and labelled as the ‘aggressor’ even though it is merely attempting to protect the exclusivity rights.

To conclude, Law 31/2020 represents a worthy attempt to meet the instances of official event sponsors and organisers by prohibiting unfair commercial practices that jeopardize the attractiveness of the related investments.

Some critics point out that the Italian legislator was actually too timid and missed the chance to regulate ambush marketing in a comprehensive manner suitable to include all its possible forms of expression and for all kinds of events: on this point, we will have to wait for the first applications of the new rules to see how broadly they will be interpreted by courts. In the meantime, a careful and effective business communication still remains the best weapon to react to competitors’ attempts of ambush marketing.

Si riaccende il dibattito sulla brevettabilità delle piante e l’Ufficio europeo dei brevetti con parere (G 3/19)  dello scorso 14 maggio reso dalla Commissione Allargata di Ricorso abbandona la sua precedente posizione e  stabilisce la non brevettabilità delle piante ottenute esclusivamente da un procedimento essenzialmente biologico.

Questo cambio di rotta mira a risolvere l’impasse venutosi a creare tra quanto deciso nei procedimenti G2/12 e G2/13, ( meglio noti come “Tomato II” e “Broccoli II”), in cui la stessa Commissione Allargata di Ricorso aveva stabilito la brevettabilità delle piante ottenute esclusivamente da un procedimento essenzialmente biologico, da un lato, e la previsione contraria contenuta nella Regola 28 paragrafo 2 della CBE (modificata successivamente alle ridette decisioni), dall’altro.

Va detto che si considera “essenzialmente biologico” un procedimento convenzionale di selezione non diverso da quanto può naturalmente accadere in natura trattandosi di un metodo mediante il quale normalmente viene sviluppata una nuova varietà vegetale attraverso la selezione e l’incrocio.

Tanto i procedimenti essenzialmente biologici quanto le nuove varietà vegetali sono espressamente esclusi dalla brevettabilità a norma dell’art. 53, lett. b), CBE. Tuttavia, stando all’interpretazione restrittiva di tale norma inizialmente resa dalla Commissione Allargata di Ricorso dell’EPO proprio nelle decisioni “Tomato II” e“Broccoli II”, la brevettabilità è stata invece riconosciuta alle piante ottenute da un procedimento essenzialmente biologico.

Alla medesima conclusione si è giunti anche nel caso T 1063/18 in cui la Commissione di ricorso dell’EPO ha ritenuto brevettabile una nuova pianta di peperoncino ottenuta mediante un procedimento essenzialmente biologico, sostenendo che nel conflitto tra la previsione normativa dell’art. 53, lett. b), CBE così come restrittivamente interpretata dalla Commissione Allargata di Ricorso e la Regola 28 della CBE prevale la prima.

Il contrasto normativo pare dunque adesso risolto con il recente parere (G 3/19) con cui, come detto, la  Commissione Allargata di Ricorso ha abbandonato la sua precedente interpretazione dell’art. 53 lett. b), CBE sostenendo, in linea con quanto dispone la Regola 28, la non brevettabilità delle piante ottenute da un procedimento essenzialmente biologico e precisando altresì che la diversa posizione assunta non ha effetto retroattivo con la conseguenza che le decisioni prese nei casi “Tomato II” e “Broccoli II” rimangono salve.

Possono farsi alcune brevi considerazioni per spiegare perché le piante ottenute da un procedimento essenzialmente biologico siano ritenute non brevettabili.

A livello europeo, ma anche a livello italiano, il titolo di proprietà intellettuale sulle nuove varietà vegetali ottenute mediante un’attività di breeding convenzionale quale può essere anche un procedimento essenzialmente biologico non è propriamente il brevetto per invenzione industriale bensì la privativa varietale istituita con il Regolamento CE n. 2100/94 e definita come un brevetto sui generis poiché si colloca al di fuori della disciplina sui brevetti per le invenzioni industriali e biotecnologiche.

Una lettura sistematica delle norme sui brevetti per invenzione e di quelle sulle privative varietali conferma la distinzione tra i due livelli di tutela che perciò non sono tra loro del tutto sovrapponibili.

Innanzitutto, la distinzione si spiega per effetto della norma sulla c.d. breeders’ exemption che pone una serie di eccezioni al diritto esclusivo del costitutore di una varietà vegetale.

L’eccezione che caratterizza il diritto di privativa varietale e che allo stesso tempo più demarca il confine con il brevetto consiste nel libero accesso da parte di terzi alle varietà protette nell’intento di costituire nuove e distinte varietà e di sfruttarle commercialmente.

Si tratta di un’ipotesi distinta dalla c.d. “esenzione sperimentale” tipica anche del sistema brevettuale e che, come si sa, legittima l’attività di sperimentazione avente ad oggetto un’invenzione brevettata al fine tanto di testare gli effetti di un prodotto o di un processo descritto nel brevetto, quanto nel ricercare nuove applicazioni del trovato protetto.

La distinzione tra privativa varietale e brevetto d’invenzione industriale viene poi confermata anche in riferimento al diverso modo con cui solitamente viene valutata la novità che, come è noto, rappresenta uno dei requisiti essenziali di protezione tanto per le privative varietali, quanto per i brevetti d’invenzione. In pratica mentre un’invenzione industriale è nuova solo laddove essa stessa non sia divulgata (i.e. descritta o esposta) al pubblico da parte dello stesso inventore prima del deposito della domanda di brevetto, una varietà vegetale invece è nuova solo quando alla data di deposito della domanda di privativa il materiale vegetale non sia stato commercializzato.

Con l’esclusione dalla brevettabilità delle nuove varietà vegetali si tende a garantire il libero accesso al materiale vegetale di moltiplicazione per finalità di ricerca e favorisce lo sviluppo in campo agricolo. Questa soluzione risulta in linea anche con le finalità del Protocollo di Nagoya sull’accesso alle risorse genetiche e la giusta ed equa condivisione dei benefici derivanti dalla loro utilizzazione.

Con la sentenza n. 8433 del 30 aprile 2020, la Corte di Cassazione si è espressa a favore della tutelabilità di un progetto o di un’opera di arredamento di interni ai sensi dell’art. 2, n. 5, Legge 633/1941 sul diritto d’autore (di seguito: L.A.). Tale articolo infatti ricomprende nella protezione del diritto d’autorei disegni e le opere dell’architettura”.

Il caso e i precedenti gradi di giudizio

Kiko, nota azienda operante nel settore della produzione e commercializzazione di prodotti cosmetici e di profumeria, aveva affidato nel 2005 ad uno Studio di architettura il compito di realizzare una nuova progettazione dei propri negozi e dal 2006 era altresì titolare di un relativo modello dal titolo “Design di arredi di interni per negozi monomarca Kiko-Make-Up-Milano”. Nel 2013 Kiko aveva citato la concorrente Wycon dinanzi al Tribunale di Milano, al fine di vedere accertati:

  • la violazione ex art. 2, n. 5, L.A. del diritto esclusivo di sfruttamento economico del progetto di arredamento relativo ai propri negozi, a causa dell’indebita ripresa da parte di Wycon, nell’allestimento dei suoi negozi, degli elementi caratterizzanti i punti vendita Kiko;
  • l’illecito di concorrenza sleale parassitaria ex art. 2598, n. 3, c.c., a causa dell’imitazione continuativa e sistematica da parte di Wycon delle attività promozionali e produttive di Kiko, con particolare riferimento all’abbigliamento delle commesse, all’aspetto dei sacchetti, dei contenitori porta-prodotto e dei prodotti stessi, ed alla comunicazione commerciale online.

Con sentenza n. 11416 del 13 ottobre 2015, il Tribunale di Milano aveva accolto le domande dell’attrice.

In particolare, con riguardo al diritto d’autore, il Tribunale aveva stabilito che la scelta, la combinazione, il coordinamento e la conformazione complessiva degli elementi utilizzati per l’arredamento dei negozi Kiko (ingresso open space con ai lati due grandi grafiche retroilluminate, espositori laterali inclinati con pareti caratterizzate da alloggi in plexiglass trasparente traforati nei quali sono inseriti i prodotti, «isole» a bordo curvilineo posizionate al centro dei negozi per contenere i prodotti e fornire piani di appoggio, schermi TV incassati negli espositori inclinati, utilizzazione di combinazioni dei medesimi colori e di luci ad effetto discoteca) presentavano sufficienti elementi di creatività. Secondo il Tribunale, infatti, da un lato, tali elementi non erano imposti dalla necessità di risolvere un particolare problema tecnico e, dall’altro, erano costantemente realizzati e riprodotti nei vari punti vendita, tali da rendere originale e creativo il progetto di architettura e quindi meritevole di tutela ex art. 2, n. 5, L.A.

Wycon aveva impugnato la decisione di primo grado dinanzi alla Corte d’Appello di Milano, sostenendo, in particolare, che il layout dei negozi Kiko non sarebbe tutelabile tanto come opera dell’architettura ex art. 2, n. 5, L.A. in quanto difetterebbero una superficie di immobile specifica in cui l’opera dovrebbe incorporarsi e l’organizzazione di tale spazio mediante elementi strutturali fissi. Secondo l’appellante, il layout dei negozi di Kiko sarebbe tutelabile, al più, nei singoli elementi di arredo come opere del design industriale ex art. 2, n. 10, L.A., norma che richiede, però, l’ulteriore requisito del valore artistico dell’opera.

Nonostante tali rilievi, i giudici d’appello, condividendo la ricostruzione in diritto operata dal Tribunale, con sentenza n. 1543 del 26 marzo 2018 rigettavano l’appello di Wycon, che presentava ricorso presso la Corte di Cassazione.

La decisione della Corte di Cassazione

La Corte di Cassazione si è espressa sul caso Kiko/Wycon con la sentenza n. 8433 del 30 aprile 2020.

In particolare, in merito alla tutela autorale delle opere di arredamento di interni di un negozio, la Cassazione si è espressa in senso conforme ai giudici d’appello.

La Suprema Corte, infatti, ha affermato che “un progetto o un’opera di arredamento di interni, nel quale ricorra una progettazione unitaria, con l’adozione di uno schema in sé definito e visivamente apprezzabile, che riveli una chiara “chiave stilistica“, di componenti organizzate e coordinate per rendere l’ambiente funzionale ed armonico, ovvero l’impronta personale dell’autore, è proteggibile quale opera dell’architettura, ai sensi dell’art. 5, n. 2, L.A.

Per essere tutelabile, il progetto o l’opera di architettura d’interni deve essere sempre identificabile e riconoscibile sul piano dell’espressione formale come opera unitaria d’autore, per effetto di precise scelte di composizione d’insieme degli elementi (ad esempio: colore delle pareti, particolari effetti nell’illuminazione, ripetizione costante di elementi decorativi, impiego di determinati materiali, dimensioni e proporzioni).

Ai fini della tutela autorale non rileva invece il requisito dell’inscindibile incorporazione degli elementi di arredo con l’immobile o il fatto che i singoli elementi siano o meno semplici ovvero comuni e già utilizzati nel settore dell’arredamento di interni, purché si tratti di un risultato di combinazione originale, non imposto dalla volontà di dare soluzione ad un problema tecnico-funzionale da parte dell’autore.

La Cassazione ha fatto inoltre applicazione del principio recentemente affermato dalla Corte di Giustizia Europea nella sentenza Cofemel (C-683/17), secondo il quale la protezione riservata ai disegni e modelli e quella assicurata dal diritto d’autore possono cumularsi qualora l’opera registrata come disegno o modello rifletta la personalità e la creatività del suo autore e la sua realizzazione non sia stata frutto di considerazioni di carattere tecnico, di regole o altri vincoli che non lasciano margine per la libertà creativa.

Con riguardo alla qualificazione della condotta di Wycon come concorrenza sleale parassitaria, la Cassazione ha invece accolto le ragioni della ricorrente.

Secondo una recente definizione della Cassazione (Cass. 25607/2018), la concorrenza sleale parassitaria, ricompresa fra le ipotesi previste dall’art. 2598, n. 3, c.c., è costituita da un continuo e sistematico operare sulle orme dell’imprenditore concorrente attraverso l’imitazione non tanto dei prodotti (fattispecie di “imitazione servile” che rientra invece nell’art. 2598, n. 1, c.c.) ma piuttosto di rilevanti iniziative imprenditoriali di quest’ultimo, mediante comportamenti idonei a danneggiare l’altrui azienda con ogni altro mezzo non conforme ai principi della correttezza professionale.

In sede di ricorso, Wycon non contestava tanto la sussistenza della continuità commerciale dei singoli atti imitativi (a suo dire tipica di un mercato particolarmente affollato quale quello dei cosmetici in cui è diffusa la replica delle iniziative commerciali dei concorrenti), quanto il mancato accertamento da parte dei giudici d’appello dell’effettiva originalità delle iniziative di Kiko imitate, trattandosi secondo Wycon di attività del tutto banali e frequenti nel settore.

La Suprema Corte, accogliendo le tesi di Wycon, ha affermato che una valutazione in merito all’originalità delle iniziative imitate deve sempre essere effettuata in modo puntuale ai fini della verifica della configurabilità della concorrenza sleale parassitaria, non potendo essere sufficiente la mera somiglianza d’insieme delle iniziative commerciali.

Conclusioni

Con la pronuncia in oggetto la Cassazione ha quindi confermato le tesi dei giudici di primo e secondo grado con riguardo all’applicabilità della tutela autorale alle opere di arredamento di interni come opere dell’architettura, ed ha invece rinviato la causa alla Corte d’Appello di Milano per l’accertamento degli elementi costitutivi dell’illecito di concorrenza sleale parassitaria.

Tale sentenza potrà risultare di grande importanza nell’evoluzione della tutela IP dei concept store, tema affrontato anche dalla Corte di Giustizia nella causa Apple (C-421/2013), nella quale la CGUE aveva affermato che un allestimento di uno spazio di vendita può, a determinate condizioni, fungere da marchio validamente registrabile.

Occorrerà ora attendere la pronuncia della Corte d’Appello di Milano per sapere come la stessa si esprimerà in merito alla sussistenza o meno dei requisiti di una condotta di concorrenza parassitaria da parte di Wycon.

Towards the end of last year, the Court of Milan issued a decision in a high-profile trade secrets case whereby it granted a one-year “grace period” for a final injunction to take effect (Court of Milan, 29 October 2019, Heraeus v. Biomet available on darts-ip). The Court did so by explicitly acknowledging the need to take into account the proportionality principle when awarding injunctive relief.

This was the first time the proportionality principle was applied in Italy to tailor the effects of an injunction. As many readers will know, Italian courts – not unlike German courts – tend to grant final injunctions rather automatically. Whether or not this decision and the principle it set will have an impact beyond the trade secrets perimeter remains to be seen.

The case

In a nutshell, the case regarded a misappropriation of trade secrets for the production of a particular kind of bone cement, with multiple parallel cases across Europe and the U.S.

In any event, the substance of the case is of no interest for present purposes and we can focus on the part of the decision concerning remedies. Here, in tailoring the perimeter and the temporal application of the injunction, the Court states as follows, citing the new provision of the Italian IP Code (Legislative Decree n. 30/2005) implementing the Trade Secret Directive (EU 2016/943):

With regards to the temporal efficacy of the injunction, the proportionality principle must be taken into account, and the measures designed to protect trade secrets must conform to such principle. And this in particular in the case at hand, in light of the interests of third party operators and of the impact that the injunction may cause to public or private health institutions, in light of Article 124(6-bis) of the IP Code and the balance of interests.

The existing agreements between Biomet and third parties and in particular hospitals cannot prevent the grant of an injunction, but only affect the timing of its enforcement. A so called “grace period” should be set in respect of some specific conducts, safeguarding the continuity of ongoing supplies to public administrations and hospital facilities. Said continuity must only be allowed for a limited period of time, equal to one year, which is considered sufficient to allow third parties to resort, for example, to urgent public tenders for the purchase of equivalent products and to train their medical staff” (emphasis added).

Interestingly, the Court also expressly awarded damages in lieu of an injunction for all infringing sales during the “grace period”. Such damages on future sales, together with the damages deriving from past sales, will be awarded through separate proceedings.

A few key points must be highlighted to better understand the potential impact of the decision on future Italian IP practice:

  1. As mentioned, Paragraph 6-bis of Article 124 IP Code, relied upon by the Court in the decision, results from the recent implementation of the Trade Secrets Directive and only refers to trade secrets.
  2. At the same time, the Italian IP Code includes another provision setting out a proportionality test of general application. The provision in question is the second period of Article 124(6), which was introduced when implementing the Enforcement Directive (2004/48/EC) and provides as follows:

In applying the remedies, the judicial authority must take into account the necessary proportion between the seriousness of the infringement and the remedy, as well as the interests of third parties.”

  1. Article 124(6) has however never been applied. The decision of the Court of Milan in Heraeus v. Biomet remains, so far, isolated, as the only known Italian precedent where a proportionality test was applied when issuing a final injunction. Given the interests at stake, one could even argue that the matter was more a question of the right to health taking precedence over economic interests (in line with settled case law – see e.g. Court of Appeal of Milan, 16 May 2006, Soc. Terna v. Busnelli). It is hence difficult to predict the impact that the decision will have in cases requiring a strict application of the proportionality principle where the conflict concerns rights of equal constitutional status, even if the decision is certainly a first step in such direction.

From a comparative perspective, the ruling might remind many readers of the 2018 decision by Justice Arnold (as he then was) in Edwards Life Sciences LLC v Boston Scientific Scimed Inc (available here), where the High Court granted a one year “grace period” based on similar considerations, with the right to health of third parties overcoming economic interests for the sake of the proportionality principle (a decision which, it must be reminded, was recently “reviewed” by Justice Birss, in Evalve Inc & Ors Edwards Lifesciences Ltd – available here, adopting a more restrictive approach).

The considerations behind the decision of the Court of Milan are however slightly different, as the focus was exclusively on the need to ensure continuity of the ongoing supplies to hospitals (to avoid disruptions due to the inevitable delays imposed by procurement procedures) and to allow medical staff to be properly trained with the new cement. This of course eased the test for the Court, which did not need to focus on the need of a permanent carve out from the injunction, deriving from intrinsic different qualities of the infringing product, with no substitutes.

According to the latest decision of the CJEU on the concept of PDO/PGI “evocation”, the use of figurative signs evoking the geographical area with which a designation of origin is associated may constitute evocation of that designation, including where such figurative signs are used by a producer established in that region, but whose products, similar or comparable to those protected by the designation of origin, are not covered by the PDO (Queso Manchego, C-614/17).

In order to understand the importance of such ruling, this Article will take a look at the CJEU case law on the issue prior to the Queso Manchego case, showing the tendency of the Court and its possible implications for a new recent referral.

The concept of “evocation” appeared for the first time in Art. 13(1) of the now repealed Council Regulation (EEC) 2081/92 on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs. Under this article, a PDO or a PGI shall be protected against “any misuse, imitation or evocation, even if the true origin of the product is indicated or if the protected name is translated or accompanied by an expression such as ‘style’, ‘type’, ‘method’, ‘as produced in’, ‘imitation’ or similar”. This wording was then maintained in the subsequent EU regulations (Regulation (EC) 510/2006, Regulation (EU) 1151/2012 for agricultural products and foodstuffs, Regulation (EC) 110/2008 for spirit drinks, Regulation (EU) 1308/2013 for wines and Regulation (EU) 251/2014 for aromatised wines).

The peculiarity of the protection against evocation of PDO and PGI provided by EU law lies in the fact that it is not governed by the criterion of the likelihood of confusion, which presupposes that the sign that conflicts with the registered name is likely to mislead the public as to the geographical origin or the quality of the product. This is in line with the public and collective nature of geographical indications and designations of origin and reflects the intention of the European legislator to protect the traditional quality and reputation of registered names against parasitic acts rather than to protect consumers against misleading conduct.

Because of such sui generis nature, the Court of Justice has been called upon to interpret the concept of “evocation” since the outset and on several occasions since.

The Court ruled on the concept of “evocation” for the first time in C-87/97 (Gorgonzola./.Cambozola), clarifying that “evocation” covers a situation where the term, used to designate a product, incorporates part of a protected designation, so that when the consumer is confronted with the name of the product, the image triggered in his mind is that of the product whose designation is protected. The factors indicated by the Court for determining whether there is evocation, include the “phonetic and visual” similarity between the name, in addition to the similarity between the products in question.

In C-132/05 (Parmigiano Reggiano./.Parmesan), the Court enlarged the concept, stating that “evocation” may take place not only in cases of phonetic or visual similarity between the names, but also where “conceptual proximity” exists between a PDO/PGI and the term allegedly infringing the protected name. In other words, evocation may also be established on the basis of the mere “conceptual similarity” between the contested sign and the protected name, if that similarity is capable of triggering in the mind of the public the products covered by that name.

The CJEU extended the same assessment criteria set out in C-87/97 and C-132/05 to the protection of geographical indications of alcoholic beverages in C-4/10 – C-27/10 (Cognac).

In C-75/15 (Verlados./.Calvados), the CJEU clarified that the concept of “evocation” within the meaning of EU law is totally independent from the risk of confusion and occurs even if the public is not at all misled as to the true origin of the disputed product. The Court also pointed out that these criteria were intended to give the national courts guidance in their decision, being national courts those who must evaluate whether, in the specific circumstances of the case, there is “evocation” within the meaning of EU Regulations.

In C-44/17 (Scotch Whisky), the Court confirmed that neither the partial incorporation of a protected geographical indication in the disputed designation, nor any phonetic and visual similarity between the PDO/PGI and that designation constitutes an essential requirement for the purpose of assessing whether there is “evocation” within the meaning of EU Regulations, finding that, in the absence of any such incorporation or similarity, there may be evocation as a result of the simple “conceptual proximity” between the PDO/PGI and the disputed sign. However, the Court recognized that “conceptual proximity” is not as straightforward as phonetic or visual similarity. The Court identified the need to set limits to identify the concept of conceptual proximity for avoiding that the scope of unlawful evocation could go beyond what is necessary for the effective protection of registered names. In this respect, the Court ruled that there is proximity only when the associative connection between the disputed element and the protected name is sufficiently “clear and direct”.

As anticipated, in the last decision on the issue (Queso Manchego, C-614/17) the Court went further, broadening the scope of protection against evocation to figurative signs (in the national proceedings, the Spanish Supreme Court addressed whether the PDO “Queso Manchego” could be evoked by use of windmills, sheep and other images, typical of the La Mancha region). According to the Court, “evocation” within the meaning of EU regulations should be understood as referring not only to words capable of evoking a registered name (in light of a visual, phonetical or conceptual similarity), but also to figurative signs capable of evoking in the mind of the consumer the product whose designation is protected.

As pointed out by the Advocate General Pitruzzella, if the existence of a visual and phonetic similarity does not constitute an “essential condition” for establishing evocation, as established by the Court in previous cases, this means that the mental association between the ordinary product and the product covered by the name in question, required for the purpose of establishing evocation, does not necessarily presuppose the use of verbal language. An image, a symbol and, more generally, a figurative sign can, like a name, convey a concept and therefore be capable of triggering in the consumer a mental association with the protected name, which in this case will be “evoked”, not visually or phonetically, but by reference to its conceptual content.

In accordance with this reasoning and previous case law and having regard to the wording of the relevant Regulation (which use the term “any” evocation – Art. 13(1)(b) of Regulation 510/2006), the Court ruled that “evocation” within the meaning of EU law (namely, of Art. 13(1)(b) of Regulation 510/2006) must be interpreted as meaning that the use of figurative signs evoking the geographical area with which a designation of origin is associated, may constitute evocation of that designation, including where such figurative signs are used by a producer established in that region, but whose products, similar or comparable to those protected by the designation of origin, are not covered by it.

The decision certainly constitutes a step forward in the protection of European PGI and PDO, in line with the tendency of the CJEU to interpret “evocation” widely and in line with the broad protection granted to PGI/PDO by the EU legislature.

In this constantly evolving case law, it will be interesting to see how the CJEU will rule on a recent request for preliminary ruling sent by the French Cour de Cassation (Morbier, C-490/19). The French Court asked the CJEU to clarify whether the shape and appearance of a product (in this case, a horizontal central black stripe inside the relevant cheese) fall under the scope of “evocation” within the meaning of EU law. More specifically, the CJEU was requested to establish whether Article 13(1) of Regulation 510/2006 and Article 13(1) of Regulation 1151/2012 must be interpreted as prohibiting solely the use by a third party of the registered name, or as also prohibiting the presentation of a product protected by a designation of origin, in particular the reproduction of the shape or the appearance of the protected name which are characteristic thereof claimed in the product specifications, which is liable to mislead the consumer as to the true origin of the product.

Should the CJEU answer in the affirmative, which would be in line with the tendency of the Court, it will be interesting to explore the practical implications of such ruling, which could in principle lead to an overlap of specific IP rights covering trade dress the shape and the appearance of the product.

This article briefly sums up the most relevant case law for internet service providers (ISPs) – intended both as actual providers of internet access as well as information services and content providers – and intellectual property right (IPR) holders dealing with legal proceedings in Italian Courts regarding liability and injunctive measures for online illicit content.

In recent years, the liability and burden of ISPs has been a topic of great discussion among Italian Courts.

From an intellectual property perspective, the role ISPs play as hosting providers (i.e. storage of information provided by a recipient of the service) is particularly interesting and relevant.

ISP LIABILITY

An important distinction, from a liability perspective, is the difference between “active host” and “passive host”. Only the latter falls within the rules excluding liability provided under EU Directive 31/2000 and Legislative Decree 70/2003.

According to the most recent case law, confirmed by the Italian Supreme Court (decision n. 7708/19), ISPs are acting as  “active hosts” when performing an activity which contains “indexes of participation” from the ISP in relation to the content uploaded. Among these “indexes” the Court lists, among others, the following activities: filtering, categorising, evaluating, monetising, advertising/promoting content. In a nutshell any activity which improves the user experience and in turn the user’s trust in and loyalty towards the content provider.

The Supreme Court then provides that an ISPs acting as “passive hosts” – that can rely on the exemptions of liability provided under EU Directive 31/2000 and Legislative Decree 70/2003 – will still be held liable if they were made aware of the illicit content by any means (even a generic notice letter) and they did not act to remove the content or did not comunicate the illicit nature of the content to the competent authorities.

To sum up, should an IPR holder wish to prove the liability of an ISP acting as “passive host”, the holder shall need to prove that the ISP was made aware of the illicit content, that the illicit nature of the content was sufficiently grounded and that the ISP had the chance to actively stop the continuation of the illicit activity.

This signals an important turning point in national case law. Prior to this decision the nature of “active host” was still inconsistently interpreted by the courts. This decision provides an extensive list of activities suitable to identify an ISP as “active host”, essentially including many activities of content service providers and thereby requiring them to participate more actively in the removal of illicit content and in the prevention of illicit content being uploaded again.

Even more notably, the Supreme Court, confirming the settled case law of the Court of Rome dealing with these cases, stated that a mere generic notice letter sent by the IPR holder is sufficient to activate a liability for the ISP even if acting as “passive host”.

Until the Supreme Court decision, the case law of the Court of Milan took a different approach, more in line with the letter of the law, providing that the “passive host” is exempt from liability until the ISP receives a specific C&D letter which contains details of the illicit content or a specific removal order from the competent authorities (Court or AgCom – Autorità per le Garanzie nelle Comunicazioni, i.e. Authority for Communications Guarantees).

In conclusion, the Supreme Court seems to have taken an approach which is more favourable for the IPR holder.

ALIAS WEBSITES AND “DYNAMIC INJUNCTIONS

Alias websites are essentially websites that provide the same (illicit) content, subject of a previous Court proceedings, but under a different “top level domain” (TLD), i.e. the domain extension or what follows the domain name in a query (“[query].com”, “[query].it” etc…), and/or “second level domain” (SLD), i.e. the query just to the left of the domain extension.

This phenomenon occurs frequently in the online world, especially in streaming service which provide content infringing the rights of the IP owner.

Indeed it is common that once the IPR holders obtain a court injunction against specific websites providing content infringing their IPRs, the owner of the offending website simply moves the content to a different website having a different TLD or SLD than those listed in the Court Order. In other words, the entity providing the illicit content could easily circumvent the Court Order essentially rendering it ineffective.

The IPR holders would then have to instigate another time consuming and costly court proceeding to enjoin the alias websites. However, once enjoined the cycle would just repeat itself.

This issue was overcome by national case law. The courts have acknowledged the difficulty IPR holders encounter when trying to obtain a truly effective instrument to protect their IPRs online. Italian courts have opened up to a very powerful cost and time saving tool; the so called “dynamic injunction”. The possibility of resorting to such a measure, in matters of online copyright infringement, has been confirmed on a number of occasions by the national courts, namely by the Court of Milan (Order issued on 12 April 2018 in the proceedings having Docket No. 51624/2017, Order No. 1073/2019 and Order No. 2718/2019).

With  this instrument, which is not explicitly provided in the Italian Civil Procedure Code, the IPR holders can extend the injunction they obtained against certain websites to the aliases of said websites – that provide the same infringing content – without the need to instigate new court proceedings each time a new alias appears online.

As mentioned, the “dynamic injunction” is not a codified measure but merely the best practical answer to the needs of IPR holders who seek online protection.

The main issue brought against “dynamic injunctions” is that procedurally this measure would shift the assessment on the illicit nature of future aliases from the judge and the courts, where this assessment should be made, to the private entity or individual owner of the IPR. Added to this, the order would apply to future unknown aliases the content of which is uncertain. Therefore, there would be the risk of a “blank” measure applying to any alias infringing on the rights of the IP owner who obtained the measure.

This issue has once again been addressed by case law.

The national courts have established that for there to be an alias against which the “dynamic injunction” would be enforceable, there would have to be objective and subjective connection between the alias/es and the website/s subject of the “dynamic injunctions”.

A “dynamic injunction” may then extend its effect to the alias website/s if they contain the same infringing content (“objective connection”) and are controlled by the same subjects who controlled the websites subject of the “dynamic injunction” or subjects or entities connected to them (“subjective connection”).

Currently, “dynamic injunctions” appear to be the most effect solution in matters of online IP infringement, especially in relation to content covered by copyright.

Its potential flexibility, cost and time saving approach along with the fact that it reduces the workload for courts are aspects to bear in mind when evaluating the possibility of extending such a solution to the protection of IPRs beyond the scope of online copyright infringement.

THE COPYRIGHT DIRECTIVE

The recent approach taken by national case law appears to be in line with the goals of Directive (EU) 2019/790 (aka the “Copyright Directive”).

The Copyright Directive aims to update copyright protection law to allow it to deal with the innovation of digital technologies.

Art. 17 of the Directive, in particular, is directly and only aimed at content providers such as YouTube and Facebook and provides that “an online content-sharing service provider performs an act of communication to the public or an act of making available to the public for the purposes of this Directive when it gives the public access to copyright-protected works or other protected subject matter uploaded by its users”.

In order to quench the debate surrounding the original wording of Art. 17, which essentially related to the lack of a general monitoring duty of the ISPs, the final version provides that the content provider shall obtain an authorisation from the IPR holders. In the absence of the authorisation under Art. 17(4), content-sharing service providers shall be liable for unauthorised acts of communication to the public unless the service providers demonstrate that they have: “(a) made best efforts to obtain an authorisation; (b) made best efforts to ensure the unavailability of specific works and other subject matter for which the rightholders have provided the service providers with the relevant and necessary information; and (c) acted expeditiously, upon receiving a sufficiently substantiated notice from the rightholders, to disable access to, or to remove from their websites, the notified works or other subject matter, and made best efforts to prevent their future uploads in accordance with point (b)”.

The directive has still not been implemented in Italy but will certainly open up new and interesting debates on the subject. First and foremost regard what exactly amounts to a “best effort” in the event of lack of authorisation.

That being said, the point made by the Supreme Court, in the decision mentioned above, regarding generic notice letters sent to ISPs from IPR holders will likely no longer hold.  Indeed, based on points (b) and (c) of Art. 17(4) above, a generic notice from the IPR holder is unlikely to be sufficient to prove the liability of a provider or require that said provider act expeditiously to remove a website or prevent future uploads.

By way of note, in France, the first EU country to implement the Copyright Directive, the French Competition Authority, in application of Art. 15 of the Copyright Directive, recently ordered Google to negotiate with the AFP (Agence France Presse) the amount Google owes to them for the use of the articles in Google News.

If history is a teacher, looking at the Spanish experience, where, back in 2014, following the introduction of a national law which essentially anticipated the content of Art. 15 of the Copyright Directive, Goggle decided to remove the Google News service from Spain, Big G may decide to shut down the Google News service also in France. This could be a great loss for the press industry where, in Europe alone, Google News brings more than 8 billion visits to publishers’ websites every month.

La sentenza Cofemel (Cofemel – Sociedade de Vestuário SA v G-Star Raw CV, C-683/17), emessa dalla Corte di Giustizia Europea nel settembre 2019, potrà avere importanti implicazioni nel panorama italiano della disciplina autoriale, con riferimento al requisito del valore artistico e alla forma funzionale.

La Corte suprema portoghese, investita di decidere sulla controversia tra le due società, sottoponeva alla Corte europea la questione se l’articolo 2, lettera a), della direttiva 2001/29 (Direttiva InfoSoc), come interpretato dalla Corte, osti a che i disegni e i modelli industriali siano protetti dal diritto d’autore solo qualora presentino un carattere artistico particolarmente inteso, il quale ecceda quanto normalmente richiesto per altre categorie di opere.

Nella sua analisi, l’Avvocato Generale Szpunar, alla luce del cumulo di tutele previsto per modelli e opere del design industriale e diritto d’autore, chiarisce che a nessun ulteriore requisito sarebbe possibile subordinare la concessione della tutela autoriale oltre a quelli già previsti nella Direttiva stessa, ossia la creatività e l’originalità. Quanto alla funzionalità, l’AG sostiene poi che le soluzioni dettate unicamente dal risultato tecnico non possano essere protette, al pari del lavoro privo di qualsivoglia creatività.

La Corte di Giustizia si esprime partendo dalla definizione di “opera” ai sensi della Direttiva 2001/29. L’opera, affinché possa considerarsi tale, deve concretizzarsi innanzitutto in un oggetto originale, una creazione intellettuale propria del suo autore; deve riflettere la personalità del suo autore, manifestando le scelte libere, creative e personali di quest’ultimo. Ciò impone la necessità di identificare, con sufficiente precisione e oggettività, gli elementi che sono espressione di tale libera creazione.

Alla luce di ciò, la Corte ha affermato che (i) l’effetto estetico, di per sé, nulla rileva ed esso non può considerarsi un requisito idoneo a fondare il giudizio relativo alla concessione della tutela autoriale in quanto collegato ad “un effetto visivo soggettivamente rilevante” e (ii) quando la realizzazione di un oggetto viene determinata da considerazioni di carattere tecnico, da regole o altri vincoli che non lasciano margine per la libertà creativa, il requisito della creatività necessaria per poter costituire un’opera viene meno.

Le conclusioni della CGUE nel caso Cofemel potrebbero avere un forte impatto sulla disciplina italiana del diritto d’autore.

La disciplina italiana prevede il requisito ulteriore del valore artistico al quale è subordinata la concessione della tutela autoriale alle opere dell’industrial design (art. 2, n. 10 l.d.a.). Alla luce della sentenza Cofemel, può dirsi detto requisito effettivamente “incompatibile” con la normativa europea?

Il nostro ordinamento non ritiene il valore artistico un requisito che abbia a che vedere con l’effetto visivo esteticamente (e soggettivamente) rilevante a cui allude la Corte europea. Infatti, in giurisprudenza è consolidato l’orientamento che identifica il valore artistico in senso oggettivo. La Cassazione ha confermato – anche di recente con la decisone n. 7477/2017 – l’impostazione assunta dalle Corti di merito che il “valore artistico” deve essere valutato alla luce di parametri oggettivi quali, ad esempio, (i) il riconoscimento da parte degli ambienti culturali ed istituzionali circa la sussistenza di qualità estetiche ed artistiche; (ii) l’esposizione in mostre o musei; (iii) la pubblicazione su riviste specializzate o, anche, (iv) l’attribuzione di premi.

Le Corti di merito applicano gli indici sopra descritti per arrivare a riconoscere il valore artistico o meno in base alla precisa rispondenza a tali criteri. Si vedano ad esempio i casi del divano Maralunga ideato dal noto architetto milanese Magistretti (Tribunale di Milano, 11942/2017) e della poltrona Pitagora della Frau (Tribunale di Milano, 11766/2017) dove i giudici hanno chiarito, solo nel primo caso riconoscendo la tutela, che la tutela autoriale nell’ambito del design industriale è limitata e circoscritta solo alla produzione c.d. di fascia alta, ossia a quelle opere che dimostrino un valore artistico accertato con criteri obiettivi. Secondo la Corte, per riconoscere qualità artistiche all’opera del design industriale non è sufficiente che essa sia apprezzata nel contesto ordinario in cui è abitualmente commercializzata o esposta, ma è necessario che essa generi interesse e apprezzamento da parte degli ambienti culturali in senso lato.

La precisa applicazione dei criteri per verificare la sussistenza del valore artistico porta a chiedersi come dette Corti interpreteranno la decisione della CGUE proprio con riferimento a detto requisito. Una lettura estremamente letterale e ridotta alle risposte date dalla Corte ai quesiti posti, porterebbe a considerare il valore artistico quale un requisito supplementare incompatibile con la normativa comunitaria. Si dovranno necessariamente attendere i prossimi sviluppi della giurisprudenza nazionale per capire in che maniera i tribunali italiani interpreteranno l’orientamento che “sembra” espresso in Cofemel.

Quanto al secondo profilo, la Cofemel ribadisce che gli oggetti la cui forma è dettata unicamente dal risultato tecnico non possano essere protetti ai sensi della disciplina del diritto d’autore. Ciò in quanto sarebbe escluso quel necessario gradiente di creatività richiesto dalla Direttiva InfoSoc. A tal riguardo si consideri il caso della biciletta Brompton sottoposto di recente alla Corte europea la quale ancora non si è espressa (C-833/18).

Alla Corte europea è stato chiesto se la protezione del diritto d’autore venga esclusa quando la forma dell’oggetto sia “necessaria per pervenire a un risultato tecnico” e quali criteri debbano applicarsi ai fini di tale valutazione. In sostanza, si tratta quindi di stabilire se una bicicletta il cui sistema di piegatura era tutelato da un brevetto oggi estinto possa essere qualificata come opera suscettibile di protezione mediante diritto d’autore.

L’AG, le cui conclusioni sono state pubblicate il 6 febbraio scorso, afferma che la Direttiva 2001/29/CE non tutela con il diritto d’autore le creazioni di prodotti con applicazione industriale la cui forma sia determinata unicamente dalla loro funzione tecnica, in quanto ciò escluderebbe la componente creativa, espressione tipica dell’autore dell’opera.

Quanto ai criteri di valutazione, l’AG Campos ritiene che, il giudice nazionale debba tenere in considerazione indici oggettivi per stabilire se le caratteristiche della forma siano determinate unicamente dalla sua funzione tecnica. In particolare, si sofferma sulla possibile esistenza di un brevetto anteriore poi scaduto sostenendo che “da un lato, un brevetto registrato può servire per chiarire se ricorressero condizioni tecniche che imponevano la forma del prodotto, dall’altro, la scelta del brevetto, quale strumento per tutelare l’attività di chi lo registra, consente di presumere che esista uno stretto rapporto tra la forma brevettata e il risultato perseguito”.

Infine l’AG prende in considerazione la circostanza per cui esistono altre possibili forme che permettono di pervenire al medesimo risultato tecnico. Al riguardo, l’AG sostiene “l’irrilevanza delle soluzioni alternative al fine di chiarire il nesso di esclusività tra le caratteristiche dell’aspetto e la funzione tecnica del prodotto”. Pertanto, qualora la funzione tecnica sia l’unico fattore che determina l’aspetto del prodotto, è irrilevante che esistano altre forme alternative. Al contrario, può essere rilevante il fatto che la forma scelta includa elementi non funzionali importanti, che rispondono a una libera scelta dell’autore.

A tal riguardo sarà interessante vedere come la Corte europea si esprimerà sul caso e se riproporrà l’interpretazione anticipata dalla sentenza Cofemel. Queste due decisioni potrebbero costituire colonne portanti dell’evoluzione della tutela delle opere dell’industrial design.

According to a recent decision of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), the mere storage by Amazon, in the context of its online marketplace (‘AmazonMarketplace’), of goods which infringe trade mark rights does not constitute an infringement by Amazon of those trademark rights.

By judgment of 2 April 2020, the CJEU (case C-567/18) ruled on a preliminary question submitted by the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) in the context of proceedings involving Coty (as the licensee of the Davidoff trade marks) and two companies of the Amazon group, regarding whether or not a company which, on behalf of a third-party seller, stores goods without being aware that they infringe trademark rights, uses that trademark even if it does not directly pursue the aim of offering the goods for sale or of putting them on the market.

In interpreting Article 9(2) of Regulation No. 207/2009 and Article 9(3) of Regulation 2017/1001, the Court pointed out that, according to its ordinary meaning, the expression ‘using’ involves active behaviour and direct or indirect control of the act constituting the use. The Court further noted that only a third party who has direct or indirect control of the act constituting the use is effectively able to stop such a use and therefore comply with prohibition inherent in trade mark rights, whereas the mere fact of creating the technical conditions necessary for the use of a sign and being paid for that service does not mean that the party offering the service itself uses the sign (see § 37, 38 and 43).

In light of the above, the CJEU concluded that “in order for the storage of goods bearing signs identical, or similar to trademarks to be classified as ‘using’ those signs, it is also necessary (…) for the economic operator providing the storage itself to pursue the aim referred to by those provisions, which is offering the goods or putting them on the market”. Therefore, when the economic operators do not themselves offer the goods for sale or put them on the market, they do not themselves use the sign in their own commercial communication (§ 45-47).

The CJEU therefore answers the question referred by the German Court as follows: “Article 9(2)(b) of Council Regulation (EC) No 207/2009 of 26 February 2009 on the [European Union] trade mark and Article 9(3)(b) of Regulation (EU) 2017/1001 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 14 June 2017 on the European Union trade mark must be interpreted as meaning that a person who, on behalf of a third party, stores goods which infringe trade mark rights, without being aware of that infringement, must be regarded as not stocking those goods in order to offer them or put them on the market for the purposes of those provisions, if that person does not itself pursue those aims”.

Although presently the subject matter of much interest, it still has to be understood whether this CJEU decision will in fact prove to be a breakthrough decision. There is indeed the possibility that it will remain a statement with little or no factual implication, determined by the Court’s obligation to limit its scrutiny to the boundaries of the very questions posed by the referring judge. It seems in fact that the BGH’s questions prevented the CJEU from taking into account Coty’s allegations concerning Amazon’s participation in the acts of offering to the public and in the advertising of the infringing products. In fact, in the decision at hand the Court itself recalls that other provisions of EU law, specifically the E-commerce Directive No. 2000/31/EC and the Enforcement Directive No. 2004/48/EC, allow legal proceedings to be brought against an intermediary who has enabled an economic operator to use a trade mark unlawfully. So that it is but to be given for granted that the BGH, in the case ahead, will not hold Amazon responsible for trademark infringement. All will depend on how the German court will interpret the underlying facts and whether and to what extent the intermediary Amazon will be considered to have had an active role.

In the landmark case L’Oreal v. Ebay (CJEU, 12 July 2011, C-324/09), the CJEU clarified that the ISP is not exempted from liability within the meaning of Article 14 (1) of the E-Commerce Directive, when the ISP has an active role allowing it to have knowledge or control of the data stored and “provides assistance which entails, in particular, optimising the presentation of the offers for sale in question or promoting them”. It was added that the ISP should be considered to have an actual knowledge pursuant to Article 14(1) of the E-Commerce Directive when “it was aware of facts or circumstances on the basis of which a diligent economic operator should have realised that the offers for sale in question were unlawful and, in the event of it being so aware, failed to act expeditiously in accordance with Article 14(1)(b)”.

As far as Italy is concerned, recent case law has extensively analysed the liability of ISPs. According to recent cases of the Court of Rome and Milan, the exemption from liability of the ISP according to Art. 14 (1) of the E-Commerce Directive:

  1. applies only to mere passive hosting providers. According to a recent key decision of the Italian Supreme Court (ruling n. 7708 of 19 March 2019) the hosting provider should be considered “active”, when it performs activities such as filtering, indexing, organising and exploiting illegal content by means of targeted advertisements;
  2. does not in any event operate when the right owners have notified the infringement to the provider. Even though it is not subject to a general obligation to monitor, the ISP cannot be exempted from its liability if it is made aware of the infringement by the right owner. In this case the ISP is responsible if it does not take action in order to remove the content and instead continues to provide the service which enables the illegal conduct.

The exemption from liability of Amazon acting as a marketplace was specifically excluded by a decision of the Italian Competition Authority (ICA). The case did not concern trade mark infringement, but rather the violation by the companies selling their products in the Amazon environment of the obligation to provide consumers with complete pre-contractual information according to the Italian Consumers’ Code. However, one does not see why the general principle established therein should not apply in case of trade mark infringement as well (Italian Competition Authority, 9 March 2016 No. 25911 “Amazon-Market Place”).

The ICA inter alia stated that for an ISP to be exempted from liability under Article 14 of Directive 2000/31, the ISP must qualify as an ‘intermediary service provider’ within the meaning of Section 4 of Chapter II of the Directive, i.e. it must be a neutral entity. That is not the case where the ISP, instead of merely supplying the service in a neutral manner by means of purely technical and automatic processing of data, acts in such a way to gain knowledge of, or control over, those data.

On that basis, the ICA acknowledged that while operating its marketplace Amazon normally plays an active role since: (i) Amazon stores the information provided by its customers on its server; (ii) Amazon is rewarded for this activity by collecting a percentage of the transactions made in the marketplace; (iii) Amazon processes data provided by sellers; (iv) Amazon arranges the methods of sale; (v) Amazon intervenes in the relationship sometimes arranging the shipment of goods or even the right of withdrawal; (vi) Amazon provides a payment platform; (vii) Amazon monitors the performance of sellers; (viii) Amazon filters contacts between sellers and consumers and, if requested by sellers; (ix) it provides assistance to optimize or promote certain offers for sale (§ 73-75).

Therefore, according to the ICA, consistently with recent Italian case-law, Amazon does not occupy a neutral position between the seller and the potential clients. In contrast, Amazon plays an active role which makes it aware and in control of the data and information concerning the sales. Therefore, the exemption provided by Article 14 of the E-Commerce Directive should not apply.

In conclusion, it is to be seen whether the BGH will depart from the above principles, thus deviating from the present European case-law scenario. For the time being, things seem to remain untouched as far as the standard for ISP liability is concerned, including in trademark infringement cases.