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Tuesday, 12 July 2011

L’Oréal v eBay Part II: what the Court says

KATNOTE: IF YOU NEED TO CHECK THE FACTS THAT TRIGGERED THIS PIECE OF LITIGATION, THE QUESTIONS REFERRED FOR A PRELIMINARY RULING BY THE COURT OF JUSTICE OF THE EUROPEAN UNION AND THE ADVOCATE GENERAL'S OPINION, READ L’Oréal  v eBay I: background to this morning's ruling BEFORE YOU READ THIS POST




The ruling in  Case C‑324/09 L’Oréal SA, Lancôme parfums et beauté & Cie, Laboratoire Garnier & Cie, L’Oréal (UK) Limited v eBay International AG, eBay Europe SARL and eBay (UK) Limited has now been posted on the Curia website. 

The active part of the Court's ruling reads thus:

"1. Where goods located in a third State, which bear a trade mark registered in a Member State of the European Union or a Community trade mark and have not previously been put on the market in the European Economic Area or, in the case of a Community trade mark, in the European Union, (i) are sold by an economic operator on an online marketplace without the consent of the trade mark proprietor to a consumer located in the territory covered by the trade mark or (ii) are offered for sale or advertised on such a marketplace targeted at consumers located in that territory, the trade mark proprietor may prevent that sale, offer for sale or advertising by virtue of the rules set out in Article 5 of First Council Directive 89/104 ..., as amended ..., or in Article 9 of Council Regulation ... 40/94 ... on the Community trade mark. [there's no surprise here ...] It is the task of the national courts to assess on a case-by-case basis whether relevant factors exist, on the basis of which it may be concluded that an offer for sale or an advertisement displayed on an online marketplace accessible from the territory covered by the trade mark is targeted at consumers in that territory [... or here].

2. Where the proprietor of a trade mark supplies to its authorised distributors items bearing that mark, intended for demonstration to consumers in authorised retail outlets, and bottles bearing the mark from which small quantities can be taken for supply to consumers as free samples, those goods, in the absence of any evidence to the contrary, are not put on the market within the meaning of Directive 89/104 and Regulation No 40/94 [= Case C-127/09 Coty Prestige Lancaster v Simex, here].

3. Article 5 of Directive 89/104 and Article 9 of Regulation No 40/94 must be interpreted as meaning that the proprietor of a trade mark may, by virtue of the exclusive right conferred by the mark, oppose the resale of goods such as those at issue in the main proceedings, on the ground that the person reselling the goods has removed their packaging, where the consequence of that removal is that essential information, such as information relating to the identity of the manufacturer or the person responsible for marketing the cosmetic product, is missing [in which case repackaging in different information-bearing boxes would still be fine ...]. Where the removal of the packaging has not resulted in the absence of that information, the trade mark proprietor may nevertheless oppose the resale of an unboxed perfume or cosmetic product bearing his trade mark, if he establishes that the removal of the packaging has damaged the image of the product and, hence, the reputation of the trade mark [... though the repackager may need to use a reputation-neutral package].

4. On a proper construction of Article 5(1)(a) of Directive 89/104 and Article 9(1)(a) of Regulation No 40/94, the proprietor of a trade mark is entitled to prevent an online marketplace operator from advertising – on the basis of a keyword which is identical to his trade mark and which has been selected in an internet referencing service by that operator – goods bearing that trade mark which are offered for sale on the marketplace, where the advertising does not enable reasonably well-informed and reasonably observant internet users, or enables them only with difficulty, to ascertain whether the goods concerned originate from the proprietor of the trade mark or from an undertaking economically linked to that proprietor or, on the contrary, originate from a third party [this looks like an application of the Court's Case C-238/06 Google France formula].

5. The operator of an online marketplace does not ‘use’ – for the purposes of Article 5 of Directive 89/104 or Article 9 of Regulation No 40/94 – signs identical with or similar to trade marks which appear in offers for sale displayed on its site.

6. Article 14(1) of Directive 2000/31 ...on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market (‘Directive on electronic commerce’) must be interpreted as applying to the operator of an online marketplace where that operator has not played an active role allowing it to have knowledge or control of the data stored.

[... but ...] The operator plays such a role when it provides assistance which entails, in particular, optimising the presentation of the offers for sale in question or promoting them.

Where the operator of the online marketplace has not played an active role within the meaning of the preceding paragraph and the service provided falls, as a consequence, within the scope of Article 14(1) of Directive 2000/31, the operator none the less cannot, in a case which may result in an order to pay damages, rely on the exemption from liability provided for in that provision if 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) of Directive 2000/31. [no surprise here]

7. The third sentence of Article 11 of Directive 2004/48 ... on the enforcement of intellectual property rights must be interpreted as requiring the Member States to ensure that the national courts with jurisdiction in relation to the protection of intellectual property rights are able to order the operator of an online marketplace to take measures which contribute, not only to bringing to an end infringements of those rights by users of that marketplace, but also to preventing further infringements of that kind. Those injunctions must be effective, proportionate, and dissuasive and must not create barriers to legitimate trade" [Good news for trade mark owners, and a headache for courts when they have to determine what is not only effective -- that's the easy bit -- but proportionate and dissuasive].
If this is all too much to take in, here's this morning's press release from the court,
"National courts must be able to order those companies to take measures intended not only to bring to an end infringements of intellectual property rights but also to prevent further infringements of that kind
eBay operates a global electronic marketplace on the internet, where individuals and businesses can buy and sell a broad variety of goods and services.
L’Oréal is the owner of a wide range of well-known trade marks. Its products (especially cosmetics and perfumes) are distributed through a closed distribution network, in which authorised distributors are restrained from supplying products to other distributors.
L’Oréal complains that eBay is involved in trade mark infringements committed by users of its website. Moreover, it claims that, by purchasing from paid internet referencing services (such as Google’s AdWords) keywords corresponding to the names of L’Oréal trade marks, eBay directs its users towards goods that infringe trade mark law, which are offered for sale on its website.
Furthermore, L’Oréal is of the view that eBay’s efforts to prevent the sale of counterfeit goods on its website are inadequate. L’Oréal has identified various forms of infringement, including, inter alia, the sale and offer for sale, to consumers in the EU, of goods bearing L’Oréal’s trade marks intended, by L’Oréal, for sale in third States (parallel importation).
The High Court (United Kingdom), before which the dispute is pending, has asked the Court of Justice a number of questions concerning the obligations to which a company operating an internet marketplace may be subject in order to prevent trade mark infringements by its users.
The Court states, as a preliminary point, that the proprietor of the trade mark may rely on his exclusive right as against an individual who sells trade-marked goods online only when those sales take place in the context of a commercial activity. That is the case, in particular, if the sales, owing to their volume and frequency, go beyond the realms of a private activity.
The Court rules first of all on commercial activities directed towards the EU by means of online marketplaces such as eBay. It states that the EU trade mark rules apply to offers for sale and advertisements relating to trade-marked goods located in third States as soon as it is clear that those offers for sale and advertisements are targeted at consumers in the EU.
It is for the national courts to assess, on a case-by-case basis, whether there are any relevant factors on the basis of which it may be concluded that an offer for sale or an advertisement, displayed on an online marketplace, is targeted at EU consumers. For example, the national courts will be able to take into account the geographic areas to which the seller is willing to dispatch the product.
Next, the Court holds that the operator of an internet marketplace does not itself ‘use’ trade marks within the meaning of the EU legislation if it provides a service consisting merely in enabling its customers to display on its website, in the course of their commercial activities, signs corresponding to trade marks.
The Court also specifically mentions certain matters concerning the liability of the operator of an online marketplace. Whilst making clear that it is for the national courts to carry out the assessment concerned, the Court considers that the operator plays an active role of such a kind as to give it knowledge of, or control over, the data relating to the offers for sale, when it provides assistance which entails, in particular, optimising the presentation of the online offers for sale or promoting those offers.
When the operator has played an ‘active role’ of that kind, it cannot rely on the exemption from liability which EU law confers, under certain conditions, on online service providers such as operators of internet marketplaces.
Moreover, even in cases in which the operator has not played an active role of that kind, it cannot rely on that exemption from liability if it was aware of facts or circumstances on the basis of which a diligent economic operator should have realised that the online offers for sale were unlawful and, in the event of it being so aware, failed to act promptly to remove the data concerned from its website or to disable access to them.
Finally, the Court rules on the question of injunctions which may be granted against the operator of an online marketplace when it does not decide, on its own initiative, to bring to an end infringements of intellectual property rights and to prevent further such infringements occurring.
Thus, the operator may be ordered to take measures making it easier to identify the sellers who are its customers. In that regard, although it is necessary to respect the protection of personal data, the fact remains that when the perpetrator of the infringement is operating in the course of trade, and not in a private matter, that person must be clearly identifiable.
Consequently, the Court holds that EU law requires the Member States to ensure that the national courts with jurisdiction in relation to the protection of intellectual property rights are able to order the operator to take measures which contribute, not only to bringing to an end infringements of those rights by the users, but also to preventing further infringements of that kind. Those injunctions must be".
The IPKat reminds readers that this is not an end to the litigation. The ruling must now be applied to the referring court and, whatever that court does, an appeal may be confidently expected. Readers' comments may also be expected ...

1 comment:

PAUL MAGRATH, Development Editor said...

This case has now been reported in the Times Law Reports July 19 and as a WLR Daily case summary at www.iclr.co.uk

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