NEWSECJ Advocate General: Champagne designation protected against „free-riding“

ECJ Advocate General: Champagne designation protected against „free-riding“

The name Champagne is increasingly causing a stir in courts this spring. First, after more than 10 years of judicial marathon, the Swiss village of Champagne is finally banned from using the place name for products made there – especially for wine, now it concerns a Spanish tapas bar in Barcelona, which has apparently given itself the name Champanillo in the manner of a treadmill driver.

LUXEMBOURG (Luxembourg City) – Protected designations of origin such as Champagne may not in principle be used for „commercial free-riding“ – for example as a name for a bar – according to an Advocate General at the European Court of Justice (ECJ). This assessment represents Advocate General Giovanni Pitruzzella after the opinion presented on Thursday in a dispute in Spain. There, the association of champagne producers had sued against the use of the name Champanillo for tapas bars. (Case C-783/19)

The Barcelona Provincial Court asked the Court of Justice to interpret the EU law provisions on the protection of products with a protected designation of origin – in this case, when used for services. The ECJ does not have to follow the Advocate General in its rulings, but it often does. The actual case is then decided by the Spanish court.

Products bearing a protected designation of origin are protected against „all practices of commercial free-riding, whether those practices have as their object products or services,“ the advocate general explained. Such free-riding occurs, he said, when the average consumer makes „an immediate mental association“ with the original product through a particular designation.

Alles was dem der Bezeichnung Champagne nahe kommt, ist für kommerzielle Nuztung untersagt. (Foto:

The terms Champagne and Champanillo „undoubtedly have a certain degree of visual and phonetic similarity,“ Pitruzzella continued – especially since the protected designation translates into Spanish as „Champán.“ However, there must be a similarity that is “close to identity” in order to speak of a use of the protected term. This was not the case in the specific instance because of the suffix “illo”.

Furthermore, EU law prohibits not only a use, but also an allusion to the designation of origin – and this could be the case here, Pitruzella explained. In this case, the national court would again have to extensively examine whether the consumer could establish „a direct mental reference“ to the product champagne. The „strong conceptual similarity“ – Champanillo literally means „little champagne“ – must also be taken into account. In addition, the company logo shows two glasses clinking together.

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