Following a dispute between the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (“CIVC”), a French association of Champagne producers, and Aldi, a German supermarket chain, the Court of Justice of the European Union (“CJEU”) issued a decision on 20 December 2017 regarding the European protection of the “Champagne” protected designation of origin (“PDO”).

Since 2012, Aldi has been marketing sorbets containing 12% champagne under the denomination “CHAMPAGNER SORBET”. CIVC brought an action against Aldi for infringement of the PDO “Champagne” before the German courts to prohibit the sale of sorbets under the denomination “CHAMPAGNER SORBET”.

The regional court of Munich ruled in favor of CIVC, but the Court of Appeal reversed its ruling. The German Federal Court of Justice stayed the proceedings and referred the matter to the CJEU to determine notably whether or not a use of the denomination “CHAMPAGNER SORBET” for a sorbet, namely a product that does not correspond to the product specifications for the PDO “Champagne”, constitutes either an exploitation of the reputation of that PDO, or an unlawful misuse, imitation or evocation of that same PDO.

The CJEU noted that it could not be denied that a denomination, such as “CHAMPAGNER SORBET”, designating sorbet was “likely to extend to that product the reputation of the PDO ‘Champagne’, which conveys an image of luxury and prestige, and therefore to take advantage of that reputation”. The issue is whether or not such use amounts to taking unfair advantage of the reputation of the PDO “Champagne”.

The Court held that “the use of a PDO as part of the name under which is sold a foodstuff that does not correspond to the product specifications for that PDO but contains an ingredient which does correspond to those specifications is intended to take unfair advantage of the reputation of the PDO if that ingredient does not confer on that foodstuff one of its essential characteristics”.

The CJEU indicated in its decision that the quantity of the ingredient in the overall composition of the foodstuff is “a significant but not, in itself, a sufficient factor”. A qualitative assessment must be made.

In the case at hand, the taste of Aldi’s sorbets was decisive; the Court considered that provided the sorbet at issue has “as one of its essential characteristics, a taste attributable primarily to the presence of” champagne, the use of the denomination “CHAMPAGNER SORBET” does not constitute a use amounting to taking unfair advantage of the reputation of the PDO “Champagne”.

It is for the national courts to determine, in the light of the evidence filed, whether it is such a case.

The Court of Justice concluded that the use of a PDO in the name of a food product such as that at issue does not appear such as to constitute misuse, imitation or evocation of the PDO “Champagne”.

The subjective test set by the Court will undoubtedly raise bubbly questions in the future before national courts.

Case Ref. C-393/16