Last week, the peculiar devotion demonstrated by employees of the Italian branch of the Nespresso Group of companies (“Nespresso”) to their employer and its products cost the company dearly in an urgent proceeding before the Turin Court.
In late 2012, following the market launch of the Nespresso “U” machine, Casa del Caffè Vergnano S.p.A. (“Caffè Vergnano”) -- which manufactures a Nespresso-compatible capsule -- noted a significant increase in requests for clarification from consumers asking whether the Éspresso 1882 capsule was in fact compatible with the new Nespresso machine.
A few of these consumers revealed that they had specifically contacted Caffè Vergnano after being told by Nespresso employees that, not only are the Éspresso 1882 capsules incompatible with the Nespresso machines, but their use may damage the machines and such damage is not covered by the warranty.
Before taking legal action, Caffè Vergnano sought to verify the accuracy of these accounts by launching an independent investigation. The results revealed that the information received from their customers was entirely accurate. In response, Caffè Vergnano sought immediate intervention from the Turin Court and, in mid-February, filed an application for preliminary injunction to stop these illegitimate and denigrating activities. The principle grounds for relief cited both the disparaging statements of Nespresso’s employees as well as the presence of misleading information in the Nespresso user manual which expressly states that “this machine operates with the NESPRESSO capsules only, available exclusively from the NESPRESSO club”. Caffè Vergnano further argued that, contrary to this statement, Éspresso 1882 capsules are in fact perfectly compatible with all of Nespresso’s machines.
Among various objections, counsel for Nespresso argued that the specific type of evidence upon which plaintiff’s arguments were based -- evidence collected by investigators, including recorded conversations between the investigators and in-store Nespresso employees -- was insufficient to support Caffè Vergnano’s claims. After hearing arguments presented from both parties, the Turin Court overruled the defendant’s objection and issued a decision in favor of Caffè Vergnano. In particular, the Court ordered Nespresso (i) to abstain from any further acts of discrimination against the Éspresso 1882 capsules, (ii) to refrain from making any statements regarding the interaction of the capsules with Nespresso’s machines other than to affirm their compatibility, and (iii) to modify the user manuals for the Nespresso “U” by deleting the phrase “this machine operates with the NESPRESSO capsules only, available exclusively from the NESPRESSO club” within 60 days.