The Market Court of Finland has recently passed judgment in a case concerning misleading marketing practices brought by the Finnish Consumer Ombudsman (“CO”) against Nokian Tyres PLC (“Nokian Tyres”). In the judgment (MAO:185/13, dated 30 April 2013), the Court sided with the CO to find that Nokian Tyres had conducted misleading advertising pursuant to Section 6, Chapter 2 of the Consumer Protection Act (1978/38) by using its own custom tire labels side-by-side with nearly identical labels governed by Regulation 1222/2009/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council (“Regulation”).
The Regulation harmonizes the use of tire labels with regard to certain essential parameters, namely fuel efficiency, wet grip performance, and external rolling noise. Information concerning the performance of a tire model with regard to the selected parameters must be communicated to consumers using a scale of A–G to denote efficiency, with logos to indicate the parameter in question, as stipulated in the Regulation. Nokian Tyres had adopted for use a label of their own to indicate grip performance on ice and snow, making use of a similar efficiency scale and logo as the harmonized labels. However, the Regulation does not concern labels for performance on ice and snow.
The CO argued that Nokian Tyres had not sufficiently distinguished its own labeling marks from the harmonized tire labels. The Market Court agreed, stating that the average consumer could be lead to believe that the custom label adopted by Nokian Tyres was based on the Regulation or was similarly official in nature. However, as Nokian Tyres had already ceased use of the label, the Court deemed that there was special cause to not enforce the injunction against the company with a conditional fine. Nevertheless, the judgment seems to suggest that mimics of harmonized labels in general should be avoided upon in consumer marketing.