The Court of Justice of the European Union, by decision of 4 December 2019, held that the protection of the name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” does not extend to the use of its non-geographical terms, such as “vinegar” and “balsamic”.

The parties and the case

The decision of the Court of Justice involved, on the one hand, Consorzio di Tutela dell’Aceto Balsamico di Modena IGP, a consortium of producers of products designated by the name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena (PGI)” and, on the other, the German company “Balema GmbH”. The consortium requested that Balema GmbH refrain from using the term “balsamico”. In response to the request to cease and desist from the usage of said terms, Balema brought an action before the German courts seeking a declaration that it has the right to use that term for those products.

Stages of the procedure Balema GmbH, defeated at first instance, had appealed to the German Court of Appeal, which has recognized the right to use the term “balsamic” to distinguish vinegar-based products produced in Germany, stating the absence of violation of the prohibition of usurpation, evocation or imitation of the protected geographical indications in the EU.

Preliminary ruling of the Court of Justice

The German Federal Court of Justice, has asksed the Court of Justice to determine whether the protection of the name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena”, which is conferred by the regulation on the protection of geographical indications and designations of origin for agricultural products and foodstuffs covers only the entire name, that is “Aceto Balsamico di Modena”, or extends to the use of the non-geographical terms of that name, that is to say “aceto”, “balsamico” and “aceto balsamico”, in order to obtain an official interpretation of EU Regulation no. 1151/2012.

The decision issued by the Court of Justice

In its judgment of 4 December 2019, the Court held that the protection of the name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” did not extend to the use of individual non-geographical terms. According to the Court, the registration of said PGI concerns the name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” as a whole. Consequently, the protection granted by EU Regulation no. 1151/2012 covers only the whole name. The non-geographical terms of said PGI, namely “vinegar” and “balsamic vinegar”, their combination and translations, in the Court’s view, cannot benefit from such protection. According to the Court, those terms lack any geographical connotation. In particular, the Court has stated that the term “vinegar” is a common term and the term “balsamic” is an adjective commonly used to designate a vinegar characterised by a sweet-and-sour taste.