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.

The Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement on Appellations of Origin and Geographical Indications has officially entered into force. The European Union’s November 26, 2019, accession permitted the Geneva Act’s entry into force three months later, i.e. on February 26, 2020.

The Geneva Act of the Lisbon Agreement, adopted on May 20, 2015, extends the international registration system established for appellations of origin by the Lisbon Agreement to geographical indications and expands the geographical coverage of this important registration system.

The Act now allows the international registration of geographical indications in addition to appellations of origin through a single registration procedure with WIPO. By means of a single registration procedure and the payment of one set of fees, the holder of a national or regional geographical indication may now obtain the protection of its distinctive sign in the other contracting parties of the Lisbon System.

Source: https://www.wipo.int/lisbon/en/news/2020/news_0001.html.

Con decisione del 29 gennaio 2020 (causa C‑371/18), la Corte di Giustizia ha stabilito che un marchio che rivendichi prodotti e servizi “ampi” (come ad esempio “software per computer”) non può essere dichiarato totalmente o parzialmente nullo ed ha anche chiarito e limitato le circostanze per cui un marchio possa essere dichiarato nullo per malafede del richiedente al momento del deposito.

Il caso

La Corte si è infatti pronunciata sulla controversia tra Sky, nota emittente televisiva a pagamento, e SkyKick, fornitore di servizi cloud. Sky aveva citato Skykick per vedere accertata la contraffazione dei suoi marchi, mentre SkyKick, respingendo l’accusa di contraffazione, aveva richiesto in via riconvenzionale che i marchi di Sky venissero dichiarati in tutto o in parte nulli a causa della mancanza di chiarezza e precisione nelle specificazioni di prodotti e servizi, nonché in quanto le domande erano state presentate in malafede. Secondo SkyKick, i marchi di Sky erano stati registrati per un gran numero di classi, tra cui rientravano prodotti e servizi estranei all’attività della società di comunicazioni Sky, quali ad esempio “fruste”, “preparati per sbiancare” o “cure di bellezza per animali”. Secondo la prospettazione di Skykick, Sky aveva quindi registrato tali marchi solo per impedire a società concorrenti di entrare sul mercato, il che avrebbe costituito malafede. Inoltre, alcune voci indicate nell’elenco dei prodotti dei marchi Sky erano troppo generiche e indefinite, come ad esempio i “software per computer”. L’estesa protezione che ne derivava sarebbe stata contraria all’ordine pubblico.

 

La pronuncia della Corte

La Corte di Giustizia è stata così chiamata a chiarire le seguenti questioni sollevate dalla High Court of Justice (England and Wales):

  1. può un marchio essere dichiarato totalmente o parzialmente nullo per avere una specificazione di prodotti e servizi non sufficientemente chiara e precisa, essendo registrato, ad esempio, per termini ampi come “software per computer”?
  2. può un marchio essere dichiarato nullo per malafede se il richiedente non ha intenzione di utilizzarlo per alcuni dei prodotti e servizi specificati?

In risposta a tali quesiti, la sentenza della Corte in esame ha definito una serie di punti favorevoli ai titolari dei marchi europei, rigettando le posizioni di SkyKick:

  • La Corte ha confermato che le registrazioni di marchi contenenti termini ampi quali “software per computer”, “servizi finanziari” o “servizi di telecomunicazione” non possono essere dichiarate totalmente o parzialmente nulle a causa di una presunta mancanza di chiarezza e precisione di tali termini, in quanto la normativa comunitaria non prevede tale specifico motivo di nullità.
  • La Corte ha affermato che non può essere considerata contraria all’ordine pubblico l’inclusione di termini ampi, non chiari e precisi nelle specifiche del marchio in quanto la nozione di “ordine pubblico” non può essere intesa come riferita a caratteristiche relative alla domanda di registrazione stessa indipendentemente dalle caratteristiche del segno di cui si chiede la registrazione come marchio.
  • La Corte ha poi confermato che vi è malafede del richiedente che registri un marchio senza alcuna intenzione di utilizzarlo in relazione ai prodotti e servizi rivendicati, ma solo se sussistono indizi oggettivi, rilevanti e concordanti volti a dimostrare che, alla data di deposito della domanda di registrazione del marchio interessato, il richiedente aveva l’intenzione o (i) di pregiudicare gli interessi di terzi in modo non conforme alla correttezza professionale o (ii) di ottenere, senza neppure mirare ad un terzo in particolare, un diritto esclusivo per scopi diversi da quelli rientranti nelle funzioni di un marchio.
  • La Corte ha inoltre stabilito che la malafede del richiedente un marchio non può essere presunta sulla base della mera circostanza che, al momento del deposito della sua domanda di registrazione, il richiedente non aveva un’attività economica corrispondente ai prodotti e servizi rivendicati nella domanda. Secondo la Corte, infatti, il richiedente un marchio non è tenuto ad indicare o conoscere con precisione alla data di deposito della propria domanda di registrazione o dell’esame della stessa, l’uso che farà del marchio richiesto dato che dispone di un termine di cinque anni per dare inizio ad un uso effettivo del marchio.
  • È importante sottolineare che la CGUE ha infine chiarito che qualora la mancanza di intenzione di utilizzare il marchio conformemente alle funzioni essenziali di un marchio riguardi soltanto taluni prodotti o servizi oggetto della domanda di marchio, tale domanda costituisce un atto di malafede solo nella parte in cui riguarda i suddetti prodotti o servizi ed il marchio sarà nullo solo per quei prodotti e servizi e non per l’intera registrazione.

 

Implicazioni pratiche e conclusioni

La Corte ha dunque esaminato alcuni aspetti di notevole rilevanza per i titolari di marchi europei, considerato che è prassi comune nell’Unione utilizzare termini e specifiche di ampia portata per ottenere la maggiore copertura possibile per le classi di prodotti e servizi di interesse. Questa pratica inizialmente incoraggiata dall’EUIPO, è stata poi messa in discussione dal precedente della Corte “IP Translator” che ha disposto che l’uso dei titoli delle classi di Nizza non deve più essere considerato come una rivendicazione per tutti i prodotti e servizi rientranti in quella determinata classe di Nizza.

Alla luce di quanto deciso dalla Corte nel caso in esame, i titolari dei marchi europei non saranno tenuti a limitare l’elenco di prodotti e servizi solo rispetto a quelli che effettivamente offriranno sul mercato. Tuttavia, è opportuno che i titolari considerino che in futuro un elenco di prodotti e servizi ampio e vago potrebbe essere valutato in modo più rigoroso dall’EUIPO e dagli uffici nazionali, in particolare nel caso di domande depositate a fini difensivi senza che vi sia una reale intenzione di usare il marchio per determinati prodotti e servizi rivendicati.

 

 

An IT contract is a multi-faceted vehicle for companies not only to protect their interests, but also to set the tone for customer relationships and create an image of their business for outsiders. Businesses can control the way their contracts are perceived simply by abiding by a number of standardized guidelines and ethics for creating these key legal documents.

Set out below are some top tips in drafting IT contracts to ensure that everyone involved benefits:

# 1 Plain Legal Language

Draft the contract with the reader in mind. The reader is not necessarily a lawyer nor a legal advisor. Anyone involved in the business arrangements should be able to pick up the contract and understand what has been agreed. Writing legal contracts in plain language also indicates goodwill. Although legal security should never be compromised, there is never any real incentive to burden IT contracts with superfluous legal language. Contracts should be readable to ensure customers take a real interest in what is being agreed. By adopting a simpler approach, it could reduce customer inquiries relating to contract language/comprehension — and in turn, diminish customer support requests.

# 2 Avoid Unnecessary Technical Abbreviations

In IT Contract technical abbreviations are frequently used. For example, a common abbreviation used in IT Contracts is “AAA” – or “Triple A” – which refers to a framework for intelligently controlling access to computer resources, enforcing policies, auditing usage, and providing the information necessary to bill for services. Another common abbreviation is SLA (Service Level Agreement) which is a critical annex to many IT Contracts. Those not working in the IT industry are unlikely to be aware of these acronyms so it is vital to provide for definitions in the definitions section in order to facilitate the reading and to avoid technical abbreviations which are not strictly required.

# 3 Transparency

Technology trends in the industry have moved away from obscurity in the legal language used and now tend towards much greater more transparency of language. Whether a contract is transparent or obscure speaks volumes about the approach of a company in its business dealings. Transparent contracts also indicate a positive level of trustworthiness.

# 4 Comprehensive and Short IT Contract

It is always advisable to keep the contract as short as possible: one of the main benefits of having shorter contracts is that there is less room for confusion. As a rule of thumb, stay within a maximum of 10 pages where possible. If necessary, collect all the technical information in the annexes. Also never overlook the importance of your company’s legal positing in your contractual agreements which takes priority over the length of the contract.

# 5 Balance the Use of Electronic Signatures

Many countries enable IT contracts to be signed with an electronic signature. This is quicker and easier than a handwritten signature, and in many cases carries greater evidentiary weight. However, when parties from different countries are involved in the agreement, the electronic signature may be an open issue due to different technology applied in different countries.

# 6 Balanced Agreements

IT contracts are moving away from a one sided standard drafted by the commercially stronger contractual party, i.e. the vendor, towards a fairer and more balanced starting position. Contract negotiations have a tendency to balance themselves. During the creation process it is ever more difficult to get the parties to accept the terms of a contract if they are deemed unnecessarily burdensome on one the weaker party.

# 7 Developing an Effective End User Agreement

End User Agreements act as a safety blanket for companies. Not only do they protect the company from issues which may crop up, they also speak volumes about the company to the users. They determine what sorts of liberties users and resellers can take with the software. There is a lot of nuanced information that goes into an End User Agreement so it is important to evaluate this carefully.

# 8 Don’t use NDA’s for Data Security

One of the most common tech buyer mistakes is to rely on non-disclosure agreements (NDA’s), or non-disclosure clauses, to protect data. Non-disclosure terms protect trade secrets, not data held or accessed by the vendor—and certainly not private data.

A security data clause should cover procedures for protecting data: encryption, passwords, dual control restrictions, physical protection of servers, etc. And data clauses should address compliance with laws and privacy policies, as well as e-discovery policies, which cover when and how the vendor can give data to the other party in a lawsuit.

# 9 Don’t let Exceptions Swallow your IP Indemnity

In many IT contracts, the vendor indemnifies the customer for IP suits regarding the vendor’s technology. If a third party sues the customer, claiming use of the vendor’s tech infringes a patent, copyright, or trade secret, the vendor normally defends its position and pays its own legal costs and may be ordered to pay any court settlement amount ordered.

However, the standard indemnity language may include exceptions that try to avoid vendor liability. For this reason, it is important to review all the exceptions included in the IT contract very carefully.

# 10 Include, Read, and Edit Specifications (even if you’re IT-illiterate)

It’s odd how often tech contracts fail to say what the technology is supposed to do.

Software is almost always adaptable and flexible. It can do countless complex things, so it can’t just be assumed that everyone agrees on what it is supposed to do. Warranties become vague or meaningless without good specifications, because a warranty promises that the tech will work, and no one knows what “work” means. For this reason, it is essential to have clear well drafted specifications. Once the specifications are clear and well prepared, the rest of the contract should become more effective to better protect the positions of the contracting parties.

Back in January of this year, the Commercial Chamber of the Milan Court issued an interesting order in the preliminary injunction proceedings instigated by Pest Control Office Limited against 24 Ore Cultura s.r.l., the organizer of an “unauthorized” exhibition of Banksy works of art owned by private collectors – The art of Banksy. A visual protest – and displayed in the Mudec museum of Milan.

Although it may appear as an open and shut case, one should not jump to conclusions or be misled by the use of the word “unauthorized”. To fully understand the position it’s helpful to step back and look at the wider factual framework.

While Banksy is generally well known as a somewhat mysterious and fascinating street artist who became wildly popular through his/her anti-war, anti-consumerism, anti-authoritarianism approach what is lesser well known is the role played by Pest Control Office Limited, which acts as the handling service for BANKSY. In a nutshell, Pest Control answers enquiries and determines whether Banksy is actually responsible for a certain piece of artwork, issuing the relevant paperwork.

In addition to the “anti-list” above, there is another interesting aspect: Banksy is (or maybe it is more appropriate to say – was) notoriously anti-copyright, once claiming that copyright is for losers. Yet, we are commenting here on what appears to be an interesting win – or partial win – for Pest Control Office Limited, and thus in a way Banksy, regarding the use of Banksy’s name and trademarks on merchandising products sold in the Mudec museum gift shop.

It appears that Pest Control obtained an injunction order against the marketing and sales of specific products sold in the gift shop, based on its enforcement of certain registered trademarks – owned by Pest Control – eg: for the wordmark “BANKSY” and the figurative marks “Girl with balloon” and “Rage, the Flower Thrower”. It therefore seems that this once anti-copyright artist is getting less anti-copyright…

Returning to the legal perspective: the most interesting aspects of this decision involves the use, on a variety of generic products such as stationary and similar consumer goods, of the BANSKY trademarks and the catalogue of the exhibition containing the representation of the works of art displayed in the museum.

While the Milan Court found the use of the above mentioned trademarks in promotional material for the exhibition to be lawful and in line with the principle regarding professional correctness (i.e. it does not lead to a belief that there is a commercial relationship between the parties, it does not discredit the trademarks, it does not diminish their value nor does the organizer of the exhibition present a product that imitates the product protected by the exclusivity) the Court held that a different conclusion should be reached for use of said trademarks in the case of merchandised products.

The Milan Court found that the use of the trademarks on generic consumer goods – with no correlation to the exhibition – is in itself sufficient to find that this use is indeed unlawful. Moreover, Banksy’s name placed under Bansky’s alleged quote is not sufficient to exclude an unlawful use, given how the purely commercial purpose of this combination excludes any presumed relevance to the fact that the sign is associated with a sentence attributable to the artist.

Moving onto the issue of the exhibition’s catalogue, Pest Control brought forth a claim for unfair competition, which the Court examined in great detail.

The Milan Court started by assessing whether Pest Control Office Limited was considerable as a competitor of 24 Ore Cultura s.r.l. in any way relevant under the applicable law. By examining the documentation filed in the proceedings, the Court reached the conclusion that Pest Control does operate in the same field as 24 Ore Cultura s.r.l. (i.e. exhibitions) at the very least as the entity that authorizes the exhibition of original Banksy pieces.

The Court notes that the exhibition organized by 24 Ore Cultura s.r.l. comprised works of art bought by private collectors with the artist’s authorization – once again hinting at the fact that Banksy may be leaving the door ajar to let in some IP rights when it suits him/her.

Having clarified this, the Court underlined that selling/transferring an original reproduction of the art piece, does not automatically include the transfer of the economic rights on said piece. Settled case law has established that the photographic reproduction of a work of art in a catalogue amounts to economic use of the same and falls in the scope of the artist’s exclusive right of reproduction.

That being said, 24 Ore Cultura s.r.l. produced the agreements it had with the various private collectors in which the latter authorized the reproduction of the pieces of art and granted their use for the creation of a catalogue and of merchandising.

Nonetheless, the Court found that such documentation was unable to overcome the obstacle provided by the previously mentioned transfer of rights by the artists. In other words, said agreements do not prove that the artist transferred the right of economic use to the private collectors, who, therefore, would not be in the position to transfer such rights in the first place.

However, according to the Court, this is not sufficient to satisfy an unfair competition claim, given the lack of evidence that such acts damage the party who raised the claim, namely Pest Control.

The Court, adroitly framing the matter, highlighted that Pest Control only instigated the proceedings enforcing its registered trademarks and did not instigate the proceedings on the basis of the right to economically use Banksy’s work. Moreover – and in any event – the documentation on file did not allow the Court to determine whether or not Banksy transferred his/her economic rights, including reproduction, to Pest Control Office Limited. Pest Control was therefore deemed to lack the essential requisite of the prima facie case when the Court examined its claim against the use and sale of the catalogue, and consequently lacked an essential requisite for obtaining a preliminary injunction order on the catalogue.

Thus, the Court dismissed Pest Control’s motion regarding the catalogue but granted the measures requested against the market and sale of the merchandised products.

The existence of a selective distribution network may be included among the ‘legitimate reasons’ for not exhausting trademark rights, provided that it complies with antitrust law, the trademarked product is a luxury item and there is a real harm to the image of prestige the manufacturer seeks to maintain through the adoption of a selective distribution system as a result of product marketing by third parties not belonging to the network.

Selective distribution is defined in Article 1, letter e) of Regulation (EU) No. 330/2010 as “selective distribution system’ means a distribution system where the supplier undertakes to sell the contract goods or services, either directly or indirectly, only to distributors selected on the basis of specified criteria and where these distributors undertake not to sell such goods or services to unauthorised distributors within the territory reserved by the supplier to operate that system”.

Therefore, the prohibition of reselling products to resellers outside the network represents the distinctive feature of selective distribution, since by means of such system products are sold exclusively through resellers who meet specific standards of professional competence. This allows the manufacturer to ensure service consistency at the points of sale, coordinated management of logistics, training of specialists and monitoring of the disposal phase of unsold products.

Two recent orders of the IP Chamber of the Court of Milan sanctioned the interference with the selective distribution system legitimately implemented by the trademark holder, making findings of trademark infringement. These rulings have confirmed the situations in which there may be exceptions to the principle of trademark exhaustion once the products have been put on the market by the brand owner.

The first action was brought by L’Oréal and Helena Rubinstein against a retailer outside their selective distribution network and decided with an interim order issued on 19 November 2018. It also concerned the resale of products under the trademarks “Giorgio Armani”, “Lancôme”, “Cacharel”, “Yves Saint Laurent Beauté” and others of which the claimants in the action are licensees, in the outlets and on the e-commerce platform of an unauthorized reseller. The claimant argued, in particular, that (i) the principle of trademark exhaustion does not apply if packaging is altered by removing the Anti-Diversion Code; (ii) the lack of consent to the placing on the market of products parallelly imported from countries outside the European Economic Area; (iii) and that a deliberate interference with the selective distribution system had occurred.

The second decision was brought by Landoll as proprietor of the trademarks ‘Nashi’ and ‘Nashi Argan’, and decided with an interim order issued on 18 December 2018. It also concerned the resale of the claimant’s professional cosmetic products bearing its trademark by a reseller not belonging to its selective distribution network, who resold products online both on its own website and a third-party e-commerce platform.

Both decisions are in line with the established case-law which, in order to come within the exceptions to the principle of exhaustion, requires the following conditions to be satisfied:

(i) the selective distribution system implemented by the trademark owner complies with the antitrust rules;

(ii) the adoption of a selective distribution system is necessary to protect the trademarked products, which is particularly the case for luxury items;

(iii) the reselling methods put in place by third parties outside the network damage the image of luxury and prestige that the trademark owner seeks to maintain by means of a selective distribution system, or produce a confusing effect regarding the existence of an actual commercial link between the trademark holder and the unauthorized reseller.

 

(i) The legitimacy of the selective distribution system

The first requirement to be met is the legitimacy of the selective distribution system implemented by the trademark owner, i.e. its compliance with antitrust law is met.

According to established case law of the EU Court of Justice, a selective distribution system can be considered compliant with the rules set forth in Article 101 of the EEC Treaty, if selectivity is made necessary by particular technical requirements, linked to the peculiarities of the trademarketed products (e.g. they require special pre- and after-sales assistance services that not all dealers are able to provide), or it is necessary to protect the prestige and reputation of the brand, provided that the selection of distributors is based on “objective criteria relating to the qualifications of the seller, his staff and his facilities”, which are “laid down uniformly for all potential resellers” and “not applied in a discriminatory fashion” (CJEU, 11 December 1980, C-31/80; CJEU, 13 October 2011, C-439/09).

More recently, in a well-known case concerning the resale of luxury cosmetic products on a third-party e-commerce platform, it was confirmed that Article 101 TFEU should be interpreted as meaning that a selective distribution system for luxury items primarily aiming at preserving the luxury image of products complies with such provision on condition that the choice of retailers is made in accordance with the criteria developed by the EU case-law referred to above (CJEU, 6 December 2017, C-230/16, ‘Coty’).

It is up to the national court, which is called upon to determine whether there are ‘legitimate reasons’ for the trademark holder to be able to oppose the further marketing of its goods, to determine whether selective distribution contracts comply with antitrust law. In particular, it should verify that the distribution agreement does not contain any of the hard-core restrictions set out in Article 4 of Regulation (EU) No. 330/2010 (price, territory, consumer sales and cross-selling), or that it is exempted from market share threshold set forth in Article 3 (market share not exceeding 30%), and that the agreement complies with the three conditions for selective distribution, based on purely qualitative criteria, laid down in paragraph 175 of the Guidelines on Vertical Restraints of the European Commission – i.e. (i) the nature of the product in question must necessitate a selective distribution system, in the sense that such a system must constitute a legitimate requirement, having regard to the nature of the product concerned, to preserve its quality and ensure its proper use; (ii) resellers must be chosen on the basis of objective criteria of a qualitative nature which are laid down uniformly for all and made available to all potential resellers and are not applied in a discriminatory manner; (iii) and that the criteria laid down must not go beyond what is necessary.

In the above rulings, the Court of Milan examined the distribution contracts put in place by L’Oréal and Landoll and concluded that the quality criteria developed, implemented and used in selecting authorised dealers were fully consistent with the aim of safeguarding the luxury image of the products being distributed, that they had been applied in a non-discriminatory manner and were proportionate to the objective pursued.

In particular, the Court noted that “the general sales conditions applied by L’Oréal, in accordance with the Guidelines on Vertical Restraints of the European Commission, expressly specify that the trademarked products were intended to be sold throughout the European Economic Area through a network of authorised selective distributors on the basis of quality criteria which are described in detail …. establish in detail the quality and location of the sales outlets, the characteristics of the brand and the sales outlet, and the minimum professional skills of authorised retailers’ (L’Oréal Order, p. 11). In the same way, the Landoll ruling also noted that the adoption of a selective distribution system ‘appears to be aimed at ensuring, by means of the proven professional training of authorised persons – or by means of training and specialisation – the appropriate use of the products in relation to the needs of the final customer, thereby also contributing in this respect to the need to safeguard the image and prestige of the products’ (Landoll Order, p. 3).

 

(ii) Luxury products

Having established the existence and lawfulness of the selective distribution system, there is a requirement to assess whether there is a need to protect the trademarked products which is particularly the case for luxury items.

In this respect, EU case-law affirmed that the quality of luxury goods is not only the result of their material characteristics, but also of the style and prestigious image which bestow on them an aura of luxury, which is essential for them in order to be distinguished by consumers from other similar products. Damage to said luxury aura may therefore affect the quality of the products themselves (see CJEU, 6 December 2017, C-230/16; CJEU, 23 April 2009, C-59/08).

Therefore, according to EU case law, due to their characteristics and nature, luxury products may require the implementation of a selective distribution system to preserve their quality and ensure their proper use. However, no criteria were established to determine when a product can be considered as ‘luxury’.

In the two cases examined by the Court of Milan, the products in question were clearly considered luxury items, so that no in-depth examination of the applicability of the judgement of EU case-law was necessary in this case.

The reasoning in Coty specifically concerned luxury goods, since this was the reference subject for the preliminary ruling. However, one might ask whether it can also be applied to products of a different nature. It seems reasonable to presume that the reasons justifying the legitimacy of the provisions for the distribution of luxury products can also be applied in other contexts where the same sort of protection that legitimize the adoption of a selective distribution system is necessary, or where the access of dealers to third-party e-commerce platforms is likely to undermine the legitimate objectives pursued by choosing this form of distribution, such as, for instance, ensuring pre-sales consultancy for a proper use of the product.

 

(iii) The Existence of Prejudice

The trademark owner must then prove that the resale methods put in place by the third party outside the network is such as to damage the reputation of the products bearing the mark and the image of luxury and prestige that the trademark owner seeks to maintain precisely by means of the adoption of a selective distribution system.

The existence of a prejudice is undoubtedly the most controversial requirement, as it implies an assessment by the Court of both the third party’s specific selling methods and the conditions applied by the owner to his authorised dealers.

In this regard, both decisions examined here are in line with the quite restrictive approach already adopted in many cases by the Court of Milan, according to which the existence of a selective distribution network, even if lawful and concerning luxury goods, does not in itself exclude the exhaustion of the exclusive rights. Based on this restrictive approach, it is also necessary to prove the existence of significant harm to the trademark (or to the products bearing the trademark) caused by the third party and resulting from the factual circumstances of the case (see Court of Milan 13 March, 2016).

On this point, the L’Oréal order clarified that it would not be sufficient to demonstrate that the method adopted by the retailer outside the network does not comply with the quality standards required of authorised distributors (and therefore with the conditions laid down in the selective distribution contracts). It is still necessary to ascertain the concrete existence of a prejudice. In this respect, the order states that “the sales methods provided for by the L’Oréal selective distribution system do not constitute a parameter for the lawfulness of the defendant’s conduct. As already clarified by this Court, the conditions of sale stipulated by the holder of the right with the resellers, as clauses having inter partes effect, are not enforceable against third parties pursuant to Article 1372, second paragraph of the Italian Civil Code. The methods of selling cash & carry are not incompatible in their essence with the prestige and aura of luxury of the brand … the danger or the possibility of a serious harm would not be sufficient to justify an exception to the principle of exhaustion, but its actual existence is required. It follows thus that the harm in question must result from specific factual circumstances of the case”.

In the Court’s view, it is therefore not sufficient to show that the arrangements adopted by the third party do not comply with those imposed on authorised dealers. The trademark owner needs to prove that they are in fact detrimental to the aura of prestige of the mark.

It could be argued that in this respect the EU case-law highlights the mere lack of control by the trademark owner in the context of a sale by dealers not belonging to the network, which, according to the CJEU, leads to the existence of harm. Specifically, the CJEU in Coty stated that: “The absence of a contractual relationship between the supplier and third-party platforms is, however, an obstacle which prevents the supplier from being able to require, from those third-party platforms, compliance with the quality conditions that it has imposed on its authorised distributors. The internet sale of luxury goods via platforms which do not belong to the selective distribution system for those goods, in the context of which the supplier is unable to check the conditions in which those goods are sold, involves a risk of deterioration of the online presentation of those goods which is liable to harm their luxury image and thus their very character” (cf. “Coty”, pt. 48-49).

It would be reasonable to acknowledge that any sale outside the selective distribution system legitimately established by the trademark holder is liable to cause harm, both to the holder and to its network of authorised distributors, who undertake to comply with the conditions specifically laid down in the contract in order to protect the reputation and renown of the trademarked products. In other words, there is no need to prove a serious and significant harm to the trademark caused by the third party resulting from the factual circumstances of the case.

On January 10, 2019, the Commercial Chamber of the Court of Rome issued a decision on the applicability of the exemptions of liability provided for in Directive 2000/31 EC to internet service providers. With this decision, the video sharing platform Vimeo – which offers services similar to those of YouTube – was ordered to pay Euro 8.5 million  in damages to Mediaset – the largest commercial broadcaster in Italy.

The decision brings to an end proceedings which lasted more than six years commenced by the well-known Italian television broadcaster after realizing that numerous excerpts of its own television programmes were being published on the defendant’s platform. According to Mediaset, Vimeo – even though not itself responsible for the act of uploading – should nevertheless be held liable for such publications, since it had not removed the disputed content upon receipt of the plaintiff’s requests which were sent before and after the commencement of the proceedings.

Vimeo requested that the case be dismissed and based its defence on the argument that it was to be classified as a mere intermediary which does not control the content published by users and is therefore covered by the exemptions from liability under Directive 2000/31 EC. Regarding the requests received, before and after the start of the proceedings, Vimeo considered removing those individual videos accessible through specific links (URLs) identified by the righ tholders – and such removals were made by Vimeo – was sufficient action on its part. On the other hand Vimeo alleged that it was under no obligation to remove videos which – though extracted from the same programmes as those set in the requests – were published on different links (URLs).

With the decision of 10 January, the Court of Rome upheld the claims of the plaintiff and held Vimeo liable for negligence having failed to comply with what the Court regarded as its removal obligations.

The Judge, in reaching its decision, reiterated a consolidated approach of both the Court of First Instance and the Court of Appeal of Rome, dismissing Vimeo’s argument on the need to specify links (URLs). The Court found that there was ‘no legal basis of the sector, nor Community case-law’ which obliges the right holder to communicate link (URL) data to the provider, whereas ‘a precise indication of the programme’ titles’ must be regarded as sufficient to obtain the removal of all the videos extracted from the programmes themselves. In fact, the Court of Rome confirmed that the ‘URL is technical data that does not coincide with the individual detrimental content on the digital platform, but only represents the ‘address’ where the content is available’.

The Court of Rome also pointed out that providers are always required to comply with the ‘duty of care’ obligation so that it is reasonable to expect – in order to detect and prevent certain types of illegal activities – that the level of care required is determined by the state of the art.

In this case, in the opinion of the Court Appointed Expert, there are technologies currently in existence (so-called ‘video fingerprinting’) that allow the provider to ‘identify, within the material present on its digital platform, material corresponding to specific illegal content, even without the prior knowledge of the URL’.

According to the Court, ‘it would be reasonable’ to expect Vimeo to use the existing technology ‘to identify [ex-post] the specific audiovisual content illegally published on its website, following the appropriate request’ received by Mediaset.

Vimeo, having ‘limited itself to remove from its own website only the infringing contents’ Mediaset had identified with the URL ‘without making any further effort made possible by the state of the art to also identify and remove further audiovisual contents’ extracted from the same television programmes (reported by the copyright holder in the requests), had not been diligent. The Court also observed that Vimeo had never even argued ‘what detriment its hosting provider activity would have suffered if it had adopted the available technologies to carry out the necessary verification and control activities’.

Regarding the damages the Court used – as a benchmark – settlement agreements made between Mediaset and different providers and ordered Vimeo to pay Euros 563,00 for each minute of the videos unlawfully published.

According to the Court of Rome, the actions which – pursuant to Article 14 of Directive 2000/31 EC – must be taken by providers ‘upon obtaining knowledge of facts or circumstances from which the illegal activity or information is apparent’ may vary over time and must be assessed in the light of technological developments.

While waiting for the Supreme Court’s decision on a case concerning similar issues – expected in the coming months – the web giants will have to assess whether the procedures currently implemented to protect copyright are appropriate or if the principles expressed by recent case-law require them to update such policies taking into account their duty to remove infringing content using existing technology.

In the aftermath of the publication of the Commission’s Communication on standard essential patents (SEPs), two rival workshops were established within the framework of the European Standards Organizations CEN and CENELEC with the purpose of establishing a code on best practices for SEP licensing.

After the first workshop (WS-SEP), backed by IP Europe, produced a first draft of its Guidance for licensing SEPs in 5G and the IoT, it is now the turn of the second workshop (WS-SEP2), acting with the support of the Deutsches Institut für Normung (DIN), and jointly chaired by the Fair Standards Alliance and ACT | The App Association. On January 29, 2019, a draft document setting out principles and approaches to the licensing of standard essential patents (SEPs) for 5G technologies and IoT devices was published by the working group and is now open for consultation.

The document is an interesting read for the entire FRAND community and proposes a number of fundamental principles, the main ones being the following:

  1. Injunctions: SEP holders should not threaten or seek exclusionary remedies, including injunctions, except in exceptional circumstances and only where FRAND compensation cannot be addressed via adjudication (e.g. due to the risk of insolvency of the alleged infringer).
  2. License availability: A FRAND license should be made available to anybody wishing to implement the relevant standard, including upstream component suppliers. In addition, requests by OEMs to have the supplier engage in the process and negotiate a license with the SEP holder should not be viewed as an indication of unwillingness by the OEM.
  3. Transparency: SEP holders should provide prospective licensees with sufficient information to assess the FRAND nature of the offer, including regarding the terms of comparable licenses. Patent holders should not exploit their information advantage regarding the value of the SEP portfolio or prior licenses and should not rely on secrecy claims and NDAs to impair the possibility for licensees to valuate the portfolio on a FRAND basis (on this last point, the draft guidance also provides a template list of materials SEP holders should allegedly provide to meet their FRAND obligation).
  4. FRAND methodologies: in line with the position taken by the Commission in its Communication on SEPs, FRAND methodologies should not “include any element resulting from the decision to include the technology in the standard” and should take account of royalty stacking, to set “a reasonable aggregate rate for the standard.”

All interested parties can send comments on the draft document until March 28, 2019 (see here for additional details on the consultation process).

La blockchain si sta facendo strada anche nell’IP quale strumento di lotta alla contraffazione.

Questa tecnologia, sviluppata come sistema per concludere transazioni finanziarie e che letteralmente significa catena di blocchi, consente la creazione di un database distribuito per la gestione di transazioni condivisibili dai partecipanti alla rete, strutturato appunto in blocchi contenenti al loro interno transazioni, che sono collegati tra loro in modo tale che ogni transazione contenuta in essi debba essere validata dalla rete stessa.

Il crescente interesse per l’applicazione della tecnologia blockchain nella lotta alla contraffazione risiede nel meccanismo di aggiunta delle transazioni al registro distribuito, che consente, in sintesi, di attribuire a quest’ultimo caratteristiche di non duplicabilità, incorruttibilità e trasparenza.

La blockchain sta trovando applicazione in una sempre crescente varietà di campi tecnici, dal web-monitoring alla tracciabilità dei prodotti agroalimentari e di lusso e non solo.

Com’è noto, in Italia la norma che avrebbe attribuito una sorta di riconoscimento giuridico del sistema dei registri distribuiti (blockchain) e dell’efficacia probatoria delle transazioni ivi annotate è stata recentemente stralciata dal Decreto Semplificazioni 2019.

Notizie diverse arrivano invece dalla “terra di mezzo”. La Corte Suprema del Popolo Cinese lo scorso settembre ha emanato delle Rules che hanno ammesso la blockchain come mezzo di prova legale. Queste Rules hanno in particolare stabilito che i dati provenienti dal mondo digitale possono essere utilizzati come prove in giudizio, sempreché possano essere verificati con metodi che includono firme digitali, timestamp e blockchain.

Tutto ciò è stato accolto positivamente in un paese in cui regna la rigidità e il formalismo nella raccolta della prova e avrà conseguenze interessanti in particolare in materia di raccolta della prova nei giudizi IP, sia in materia di contraffazione, che di validità del titolo.

Includere la blockchain tra i mezzi di prova consente infatti di semplificare il gravoso onere in capo al titolare del diritto, che in Cina di norma è obbligato a disporre investigazioni e notarizzazioni di siti web, con costi e tempistiche molto elevati. Le prove che sono state archiviate e verificate su piattaforme blockchain possono dunque essere utilizzate in giudizio, senza la necessità di coinvolgere un notaio che ne autentichi l’autenticità.

Le Rules si collocano nell’ambito delle norme procedurali dei nuovi tribunali specializzati nelle controversie di internet, che si occupano di svariate materie collegate all’uso di internet nelle transazioni (Proprietà intellettuale e non solo). Questi tribunali specializzati sono stati istituiti nelle città di Hangzhou nell’agosto 2017, Beijing e Guangzhou, rispettivamente ad agosto e settembre 2018.