European Court of Justice Recognizes Superiority of Cognac Geographical Indication

On July 14, 2011, Bastille Day, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) recognized the superiority of the geographical indication (GI) “COGNAC” for spirits in Finland over a trademark application encompassing the term “KONJAKKI” for a generic reference to brandy not meeting the standard for the use of “COGNAC” as set forth by the Bureau National Interprofessional du Cognac (BNIC).

The case was largely one of technical interpretation in determining whether a Finnish trademark registration filed in 2001 and registered in 2003 for a mark encompassing the term “KONJAKKI,” the purported Finnish generic term for “brandy,” and the Finnish translation of “COGNAC,” could remain registered despite the fact that “COGNAC” is recognized by the European Union as a geographical indication in the revised EU Spirits Law of 2008 (EU Regulation No. 110/2008).

Even though the Finnish trademark at issue today was registered in 2003 and the new EU spirits law recognizing COGNAC did not come in effect until 2008, the ECJ found that the Finnish trademark application for the mark encompassing the term “KONJAKKI”” was bound by the requirements of Article 23(2) of TRIPs (the WTO Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights), and, because it was applied for after the 1996 grandfather date of TRIPS, the ECJ found that the use and application to register the mark encompassing the term “KONJAKKI,” was invalid based on BNIC’s rights to control and certify use of the term COGNAC.

For more information on matters related to geographical indications, contact Scott Gerien at [email protected].

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