Recently, the Antwerp Enterprise Court had to decide whether a Dutch undertaking was liable for criticizing a Belgian competitor on that competitor’s own blog. The court held the Dutch undertaking liable and ordered it to pay EUR 1,500 in damages.
This case arose from an earlier trademark dispute between the parties. In a judgment of 28 September 2016, the Dutch undertaking was found liable for infringing the Belgian undertaking’s trademarks. The court found that both parties’ device trademarks using the words ECO-BAM for (ecological) bamboo products were confusingly similar, and the court ordered the Dutch undertaking to stop any further use. The Dutch undertaking complied with the court decision, which in most cases would conclude legal proceedings.
In this case, however, the Belgian company initiated separate legal proceedings seeking compensation for damage caused by the trademark infringement. Such damages claims are unusual because there is often no evidence for damages arising from confusingly similar trademarks.
The Belgian company claimed EUR 325,000, but the court found no evidence to justify this amount. It granted a mere EUR 15,000 in equity.
The court then turned to another aspect of the case: A manager of the Dutch undertaking had complained on the Belgian competitor’s website blog about its damages claim of EUR 325,000, accusing it of claiming unjustified sums of money from hard-working and honest people.
The court decided that the statement was an expression of revenge, not of free speech. It was classed as disparagement, and the court ordered the Dutch undertaking to pay EUR 1,500 in damages.
The court’s view is correct and its message is clear: the only venue for a legal dispute is the court, not blogs or other social media.
Antwerp Enterprise Court, 7 July 2019, A/18/6419