Whilst champagne corks were popping all over the world this past New Year's, winemakers in the Northeast of France had little cause for celebration in the wake of the CJEU's decision over Aldi Süd's "CHAMPAGNER SORBET" dessert.
Champagne has become somewhat of a posterchild for so-called Protected Designations of Origin (PDOs) – one of three regimes available under EU law whereby food producers across Europe so jealously guard their various namesakes.PDOs are sui generis intellectual property rights available to specific agricultural products originating in particular geographical regions. They can have serious implications for unsuspecting food traders all over the EU, including Malta, and you'd be hard-pressed to find an organisation of enforcers more active than the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne (CIPV).
The pivotal issue in the case brought by the ever-vigilant CIPV against the German discount supermarket titan concerned the use of champagne as an ingredient in another product – a delightful champagne-based sorbet advertised as "CHAMPAGNER SORBET". The four questions put to the court may be summed up as follows: whether the protection granted by EU law excludes the use of a PDO for commercial purposes in relation to goods consisting only partly of a PDO-protected product.Put simply (if slightly crudely); if a product that is not champagne contains champagne, can you say "champagne"?
The CJEU's answer appears to be "yes", at least with regard to products that are 12% "pure", and which do not occupy the same market, and where the protected term is used in a manner which merely communicates certain features of the product with which it is applied. The parameters are rather constrained by the facts. It is unlikely that future judgments in the lower courts will be citing Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne v Aldi Süd to allow food producers to market cheeses containing 1% Dutch milk as "Holland Milk Gouda" or "Holland Milk Edam". Then again Dutch cheesemakers might not be blamed for losing some sleep over the decision.The case, filed on the basis of the extended protection afforded to products in the wine sector under Regulations (EU)1308/2013 and (EC)1234/2007, might well apply to the protection granted under other, more general, EU statutes, including the all-embracing Regulations (EU)1151/2012 and (EC)510/2006.
Sadly, Aldi's much-disputed frozen dessert is no longer for sale. It is left to be seen whether similar disputes concerning similar uses of similarly protected terms will produce similar results in different agricultural sectors.