With decision No. T-253/20, issued on 20 January 2021, the EU General Court annulled the decision of the EUIPO Board of Appeal issued under Article 7(1)(b) EUTMR regarding the refusal of the registration of the word sign “IT’S LIKE MILK BUT MADE FOR HUMANS”.

The decision provides significant clarification on the requirements to register trademarks consisting of slogans.

Background of the proceedings

On 14 March 2019, the applicant, Oatly AB, filed an application before the EUIPO to register the word sign “IT’S LIKE MILK BUT MADE FOR HUMANS” in Classes 18, 25, 29, 30 and 32.

On 5 September 2019 the examiner, on the basis of Article 7(1)(b) of Regulation 2017/1001, read in conjunction with Article 7(2) of that regulation, refused to register the mark applied for goods related to, inter alia, dairy products, milk and beverages, i.e. all the goods claimed by the application in class 29, and the majority of goods claimed in classes 30 and 32.

The refusal was confirmed by the Board of Appeal on 7 February 2020. The Board assessed that part of the mark applied for (“it’s like milk”) indicated that the goods marketed were or contained milk substitutes and, secondly, that the second part of that mark (“but made for humans”) made clear that they were more apt for human consumption. Therefore, the sign would be understood as a laudatory promotional slogan, rather than an indication of the commercial origin of the claimed goods. In particular, the Board stated that sign “IT’S LIKE MILK BUT MADE FOR HUMANS” indicated to consumers who suffered from lactose intolerance or an allergy to milk, or were vegans that the goods covered by the sign are very similar to milk and that they are, in contrast to cow’s, goat’s and sheep’s milk, specifically made for human consumption.

The applicant filed an appeal before the EU General Court. The Court annulled the previous decisions issued by the EUIPO, and upheld the appeal on the basis of the following arguments.

The decision of the EU General Court

First, the Court provided a review of the case law of the Court of Justice on trademarks consisting of slogans and advertising messages. In particular, the Court referred to the following principles:

  1. the registration of marks 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 those marks is not excluded by virtue of such use (C‑64/02 P, OHIMErpo Möbelwerk, par. 41, and C‑398/08 P, Audi v OHIM 35);
  2. when assessing a mark’s distinctive character, applying stricter criteria to slogans than to other types of signs is not appropriate (C‑398/08 P, AudiOHIM 35 and the case-law cited, and C‑311/11 P, Smart Technologies v OHIM, par. 25 and the case-law cited);
  3. while the criteria for the assessment of distinctive character are the same for different categories of marks, the relevant public’s perception is not necessarily the same in relation to each of those categories and that it could therefore prove more difficult to establish distinctiveness in relation to marks of certain categories, as compared with marks of other categories (C‑398/08 P, AudiOHIM 37 and the case-law cited, and T‑104/16, Puma v EUIPO (FOREVER FASTER), par. 18 and the case-law cited);
  4. in any case, advertising slogans cannot be required to display “imaginativeness” or even “conceptual tension which would create surprise and so make a striking impression” in order to have the minimal level of distinctiveness required under Article 7(1)(b) of Regulation 2017/1001 (C‑398/08 P, AudiOHIM 39 and the case-law cited, and T‑550/14, Volkswagen v OHIM (COMPETITION), par. 16).

In light of the above case law, the Court pointed out that the laudatory connotation of a word mark does not mean that it cannot be appropriate for the purposes of guaranteeing to consumers the origin of the goods or services which it covers. Thus, such a mark can be perceived by the relevant public both as a promotional formula and as an indication of the commercial origin of goods or services. Consequently, a trademark consisting of an advertising slogan must be regarded as being devoid of any distinctive character if it is liable to be perceived by the relevant public only as a mere promotional formula.

As regards to the specific meaning of the mark applied for “IT’S LIKE MILK BUT MADE FOR HUMANS”, the Court stated that, given the presence of conjunction “but” in the middle of that mark, the consumer will perceive an opposition between the first part of the mark (“it’s like milk”) and the second part of the mark (“made for humans”). As a result, the mark applied for conveys not only the idea that the goods at issue, which are foodstuffs, are similar to milk and are intended for human consumption, but also the idea that milk itself is not.

By using the above meanings, the Court ascertained that the mark applied for calls into question the commonly accepted idea that milk is a key element of the human diet. The mark applied for conveys a message which is capable of setting off a cognitive process in the minds of the relevant public, including those consumers who avoid consuming dairy products for ethical or physiological reasons.

Therefore, the wording “IT’S LIKE MILK BUT MADE FOR HUMANS” is easy to remember and is consequently capable of distinguishing the applicant’s goods from goods which have another commercial origin.

Hence, the Court concluded that the mark applied for “IT’S LIKE MILK BUT MADE FOR HUMANS” has the minimum degree of distinctive character required by Article 7(1)(b) of Regulation 2017/1001.

As widely anticipated, the Düsseldorf Regional Court has decided to refer to the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) a series of question arising from a dispute between Nokia and Daimler regarding the alleged infringement of one of Nokia’s standard essential patent (SEPs) by Daimler’s connected cars.

The dispute in suit concerned in essence whether SEP holders like Nokia can freely decide at which level of the production chain of the final products to license their patents, with Nokia wishing to license Daimler only, whilst the latter insists that Nokia should have licensed its technology to suppliers of connectivity components located higher up in the production chain. The same issue is being discussed in other parallel cases before German courts, involving Daimler and its suppliers against several SEP holders.

The questions referred to the CJEU however go beyond the hotly debated issue of component level licensing and actually seek clarification from the top EU court as to a number of major open issues dealt with by the previous case law (including by the CJEU itself in Huawei v. ZTE). The questions articulated by the German court are as follows:

A. Is there an obligation to license suppliers first?

1. Can a company in a downstream position in an infringement action brought by the holder of a standard essential patent (SEP) who has irrevocably committed to grant a license to any third party on FRAND terms, raise the objection of abuse of a dominant position within the meaning of Art. 102 TFEU if the standard for which the patent is essential or parts thereof are implemented in an intermediate component purchased by the defendant whose supplier is willing to license the patent holder, and the latter refuses to grant an independent and unlimited license on FRAND terms covering all relevant types of use relevant under patent law?

a) Does this apply in particular if it is customary in the relevant industry that patent rights be cleared by the suppliers of components implementing said patents?

b) Are suppliers at each stage of the supply chain entitled to a license, or does this only apply to the supplier immediately upstream of the manufacturer of the final product at the end of the production chain? Does this depend as well on business practices in the industry?

  1. Does the prohibition of abuse under cartel law require that the supplier be granted its independent, unrestricted license for all types of use relevant under patent law on FRAND terms for products implementing the standard, so that that the manufacturers of the final product (and possibly the upstream levels of the supply chain) in turn no longer require their independent, separate license from the SEP holder in order to avoid a patent infringement claim if the relevant component was used under a license?
  1. If the question referred under no. 1 is answered in the negative: Does Art. 102 TFEU impose any special qualitative, quantitative and/or other requirements on the criteria according to which the SEP holder can decide against which potential infringers at different levels of the same production and value chain to request and injunction?

B. Clarification of the requirements set forth by the Court of Justice in the case of Huawei ./. ZTE (judgment of 16 July 2015, C170/13):

  1. Irrespective of the fact that the reciprocal duties of conduct to be met by the SEP holder and the SEP implementer (notification of infringement, license request, FRAND license offer; priority to the license offer to the supplier) must be fulfilled before court proceedings, is it possible to make up without prejudice in the course of legal proceedings for duties of conduct that were not met in the pre-litigation phase?
  2. Should a licensing request by the implementer only be considered relevant if, based on a comprehensive assessment of all circumstances, it clearly and unambiguously shows the willingness and readiness of the implementer to conclude a license agreement with the SEP holder under FRAND conditions, whatever these FRAND conditions (which due to the lack of a license offer formulated at that time, were not foreseeable yet) may be?

a) Does an infringer who remains silent for several months after receiving an infringement notice indicate that it is not interested in obtaining a license, so that despite a request for a license was only nominally formulated, such request shall be considered not in good faith, with the consequence that the SEP holder’s request for injunction must be granted?

b) Can it be inferred from license terms proposed by the implementer in a counter-offer that the implementer was actually unwilling to take a license, with the result that the SEP holder’s request for injunction must be granted without prior examination of whether the SEP holder’s own license offer (which preceded the implementer’s counter-offer) is actually FRAND?

c) Is the above conclusion to be avoided if the license terms of the counter-offer, from which it is to be concluded that the implementer was actually unwilling to take a license, are such that it is not obvious neither clarified by the case law of the highest court that they are not FRAND?

The referral of the above questions will provide the CJEU with the occasion for once again shaping the direction of the FRAND debate in Europe.

© UK Supreme Court

What is the impact of the recent UK Supreme court Unwired Planet judgement? What is the current status of the component level licensing debate in Europe? How do courts currently construe the non-discriminatory prong of the FRAND undertaking and what is the role of such element from an economic perspective?

These are some of the topics discussed in a recent online seminar held by Bocconi University, in the framework of their LL.M. in Law of Internet Technology, and introduced by Professor Laurent Manderieux. The high-profile panelists included Pat Treacy, Partner at Bristows and Deputy Judge at the High Court of England and Wales, Christian Donle, Partner at Preu Bohlig, and Kai-Uwe Kühn, Professor at the Centre for Competition Policy, University of East Anglia, and former Chief Economist of DG Competition of the European Commission.

The panel was moderated by Vittorio Cerulli Irelli, Partner at Trevisan & Cuonzo, who led the conversation on the various topics and started the discussion by addressing with Pat Treacy the impact on the standard essential patent (SEP) licensing environment of the recent UK Supreme Court Unwired Planet judgment ([2020] UKSC 37), which confirmed that the English courts have jurisdiction and may properly exercise the power to (a) grant an injunction restraining the infringement of a UK standard essential patent (SEP) unless the defendant enters into a global licence on FRAND terms of a multinational patent portfolio of SEPs and (b) determine royalty rates and other disputed items for such global licence of the SEP portfolio and declare that such terms are FRAND.

The discussion noted that the jurisdictional basis identified by the UK Supreme Court rests on the contractual arrangement of the SEP holder with ETSI (“it is the contractual arrangement which ETSI has created in its IPR Policy which gives the court jurisdiction to determine a FRAND licence” – Paragraph 58). As was noted, this may support standalone FRAND declaratory actions, at least on the part of those that are intended to benefit from the contractual arrangement of the SEP holder with ETSI, and at least to the extent of seeking a useful declaration as to FRAND terms in a particular commercial context (for further details, see also here).

This jurisdictional basis also potentially exacerbates the risk of overlapping proceedings and jurisdictional gaming, as we are already seeing with the mounting wave of anti-suit and anti-anti-suit injunctions across the globe (for an overview of recent major cases, see here and here). Also, it is likely that we will soon experience an increase of races to the court even within the jurisdictions of the Brussels (or, after Brexit, the Lugano) system, as it is to be expected that parties wishing to avoid the FRAND setting jurisdiction of the UK courts might seek  declaratory FRAND declarations before other jurisdictions within the Brussels (or Lugano) system with the aim of preempting and requesting the stay of the subsequent UK proceedings.

As noted by Vittorio Cerulli Irelli, initial indications of the possibilities for challenges under Article 29 and 30 of the Brussels Regulation (recast) have been popping up in recent years, the most recent being the judgment of Mr. Justice Mann in Philips v. TCL (see here) and the only stay so far being the one granted by the Irish High Court in Vodafone v IV ([2017] IEHC 160), with a reasoning that interestingly mirrors the one given in obiter by Mr Justice Briss in IPCom v Vodafone ([2019] EWHC 1255: “The argument that the issues were related seemed to me to be a strong one. […] The point is that, in essence, the FRAND obligation operates as an international contract enforceable by any relevant implementer — let us say, Vodafone — against the party giving the undertaking. Part of the problem is that the contract has no choice-of-forum clause, so it is at least possible for closely related actions to arise in different courts around the world. After all, the FRAND obligation itself is entirely international. There is, therefore, an obvious potential risk of irreconcilable decisions”).

The relevance of such issues will only increase after the UK Supreme Court decision in Unwired Planet and this should further advise the parties wishing to secure a favourable FRAND jurisdiction to act pre-emptively, including within Europe.

The discussion then moved to the major issue of whether the FRAND undertaking generates an obligation for SEP holders to licence their portfolio upstream, to component manufacturers. Christian Donle provided an overview of the current litigation landscape in Germany, where the issue of component level licensing is currently being debated before the infringement and antitrust courts (with the Mannheim and Munich courts having excluded such a duty and the Düsseldorf court soon to decide whether the issue should be referred to the CJEU).

Kai-Uwe Kühn also joined the discussion, assessing possible theories of competitive harm in the context of refusals to licence at component level under Article 102 TFUE, with a particular focus on the potential for exploitative abuses, in particular when the refusal to licence upstream is shown to generate excessive returns for the SEP holder – with a related risk of a reduction of innovation incentives for the companies operating in the affected value chain – and to increase transaction costs.

The discussion then moved to the last topic addressed in the seminar, regarding the relevance of non-discrimination in a FRAND setting, in particular from an economic perspective. The debate with Kai-Uwe Kühn revolved around the recent case law decisions dealing with the interpretation of the contractual FRAND obligation that excluded a “hard edge” approach to non-discrimination (i.e. similar situations must be treated alike and different situations differently, with the practical consequence that a SEP owner would be required to grant licence terms equivalent to the most favourable licence terms to all similarly situated licensees) in favour of a “general” non-discrimination obligation (where the non-discrimination element is to be read as part of a single, unitary obligation to licence on terms which are “fair, reasonable and non-discriminatory”, and to comply with that obligation, the licensor would simply be required to offer a royalty rate set by reference to the true value of the SEPs being licenced). The issue of whether there is a need for further guidance under Article 102 TFUE in respect of non-discrimination in a SEP environment was also explored at length, with interesting deviations on the problems that will increasingly be faced in IoT industries. In this latter respect, the role for valuation mechanisms that focus on use patterns in the various sectors (e.g. shared data volumes, etc.), rather than end pricing, was also discussed.

As often occurs when discussing SEPs and FRAND issues, the debate was lively and sparked more questions than it answered, confirming that there is still a long way to go for legislators and courts to resolve all open issues.

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.


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.