By Jonas Steinle
Jonas Steinle, LL.M., is a doctoral student at the chair of Prof. Dr. Matthias Weller, Mag.rer.publ., Professor for Civil Law, Civil Procedure and Private International Law at EBS Law School Wiesbaden, Germany.
On 5 June 2014, the Court of Justice of the European Union delivered another judgment on Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation in Coty Germany GmbH ./. First Note Perfumes NV, C-360/12. With its decision, the Court completed a series of three pending decisions that all concerned cases where there are several supposed perpetrators and one of them is sued in a jurisdiction other than the one he acted in.
The German based claimant, the Coty Germany GmbH, sells and manufactures perfumes and cosmetics in Germany. Among its products there is one perfume that comes in a bottle, corresponding to a three-dimensional Community trademark whereof Coty Germany is the proprietor. The defendant, First Note, is a Belgium based perfume wholesaler. One of the perfumes of First Note was sold in a bottle, similar to the one that is protected by the Community trademark of Coty Germany. First Note sold this perfume to a German based intermediary, the Stefan P. Warenhandel. These sales were performed entirely outside of Germany since Stefan P. Warenhandel had collected the perfumes directly at the premises of First Note in Belgium and resold them in Germany.
Coty Germany claimed that the distribution of the perfume in Belgium by First Note constituted an infringement of its Community trademark and commenced proceedings against First Note before German (!) courts, although these sales had been performed entirely outside of Germany. Coty Germany argued that jurisdiction of the German courts could be established pursuant to Art. 93 para. 5 of the Trademark Regulation, which requires that the defendant allegedly acted within the territory of the seized court. The second basis for establishing jurisdiction of the German courts was Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation, which provides for the place where the damage occurred. Coty Germany claims that the acts of the German based Stefan P. Warenhandel can be imputed to the Belgium based defendant, First Note, and that therefore jurisdiction may be established before the German courts. Both heads of jurisdiction formed each a question for reference to the Court.
In its first part of the judgment, the Court referred to Art. 93 para. 5 of the Trademark Regulation as a potential basis for jurisdiction. The Court ruled that the application of Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation is expressly precluded under the Trademark Regulation and that Art. 93 para. 5 of the Trademark must therefore be interpreted independently from Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation (para. 31) without making reference to the existing case law of the Brussels I Regulation (para. 32). By referring to the wording and the purpose of that rule, the Court came to the conclusion that Art. 93 para. 5 of the Trademark Regulation does only allow jurisdiction to be established before the courts where the trade mark was presumably infringed and not before the courts, where a potential accomplice had made any such infringements.
With regard to the second referred question on Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation, the Court distinguished between the place where the causal event occurred and the place where the damage occurred.
As for the first alternative of this rule, the question at hand was whether one can impute the action of one perpetrator to his accomplice in order to establish jurisdiction under Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation under the place where the causal event occurred. This would essentially allow the claimant to sue any perpetrator at a place of action of his accomplices and hence at a venue where he himself never acted. Here, the Court simply referred to its ruling in the case Melzer in 2013, where the Court clearly had denied such possibility as a basis for jurisdiction under Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation.
Since the referring court, the German Bundesgerichtshof, had not limited the order for reference to the place where the causal event occurred, the CJEU this time could also address the second alternative under Art. 5 No. 3 Brussels I Regulation as a potential basis for jurisdiction, which is the place where the damage occurred. Here, the Court came to a different conclusion by referring to the Wintersteiger and Pinckney decisions where it had held that the occurrence of damage in a particular Member State is subject to the protection in that relevant Member State (para. 55). Holding that this was also true for infringements of unfair competition, which was the case here, the Court stated:
57 “It must therefore be held that, in circumstances such as those of the main proceedings, an action relating to an infringement of that law may be brought before the German courts, to the extent that the act committed in another Member State caused or may cause damage within the jurisdiction of the court seised.”
Accordingly, the Court does allow jurisdiction to be established on the basis of the place of occurrence of damage, to hear an action for damages against a person established in another Member State who acted in that State and whose actions – through the furtherance of another perpetrator – caused damage within the jurisdiction of the seised court.