German champagne war: Protected designation of origin

The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has reviewed EU legislation on protected designations of origin (PDOs) in deciding a case concerning a sorbet branded and sold as ’Champagner Sorbet’.

A sorbet may be sold under the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ if it has, as one of its essential characteristics, a taste attributable primarily to champagne.

If that is the case, that product name does not take undue advantage of the protected designation of origin ‘Champagne’.

The association of champagne producers, Comité Inteprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (“CIPV”), initiated proceedings in the German courts against the Aldi Süd, the German, family-owned supermarket chain, for an injunction to prohibit it from selling a sorbet under the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’.

The distribution of that particular sorbet, which Aldi Süd began selling in 2012 infringed the protected designation of origin (PDO) ‘Champagne’ according to the CIPV.

Germany’s Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichsthof), to which the case was referred at final instance, referred to the European Court of Justice for an interpretation of EU rules on the protection of PDOs.

The European Court of Justice responded in their judgment this week by finding that the unlawful exploitation of the reputation of a PDO entails use of the PDO that seeks to take undue advantage of its reputation.

In essense, it was found that if the producthas, as one of its essential characteristics, a taste that is primarily attributable to champagne, then the name ‘Champagner Sorbet’ did not take undue advantage of the PDO ‘Champagne’, and it was for the national court to determine, in the light of the evidence before it, whether that was the case.

A PDO is protected not only against false or misleading indications which are liable to create a false impression as to the origin of the product concerned, but also against false or misleading indications relating to the nature or essential qualities of the product.

The full judgment in Case C-393/16 Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne v Aldi Süd DienstleistungsGmbH & Co. OHG is available here.