Trademark Case Brief- Bollinger v Costa Brava Wine Co Ltd

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Citation – [1961] 1 W.L.R. 277

Facts: There were 12 plaintiffs duly incorporated in France, who carried on the business of producing wine in the Champagne district of France, and supplied this wine to England and Wales. The wine that came from these vineyards were sold under the name “Champagne”, and there was immense goodwill attached to this name and its brand of wines. This wine was made through a detailed process, and was placed at a high standard in the United Kingdom, and was mainly associated with celebratory occasions.
The defendants are a company incorporated in England, and were importing and selling a wine named, “Spanish Champagne”. This Wine was alleged to possess some characteristics of the “Champagne” produced in France. However, the Wine sold by the defendants was produced in Spain, and is not associated in any way with the Champagne district of France. Consequent to the common usage of the word “Champagne” in both products, a dispute arose between the two parties.

Issue: 
Whether the Defendants’ usage of the Name or Mark intended to deceive or mislead the public, thereby by amounting to passing off?

Rationale:
§ The Defendants’ primary contention was that the wine they sold was “Spanish” champagne, and therefore it could not have been mistaken for “Champagne” produced in France.
§ Although this was plausible, the Court recognized that this argument would accommodate only the educated class of people, who are well versed with wines and are generally accustomed to buying different products.
§ In addition, the Court considered a large amount of evidence that concerned the term “Champagne” in England. Most of the evidence obtained, suggesting that “Champagne” in England is always associated with the product of the plaintiffs and nothing else. The evidence further suggested that the term “Champagne” in England is not generic, and is related only to the Plaintiff’s product.
§ On assessing whether the Defendants’ product “Spanish Champagne” was deceiving – The Court opined that the resemblance between the two products was deceiving. As a result, the usage of the word “Spanish” could not be used to deem both products different.
§ In addition, the Court opined that it is not easy for individuals to assess and have enough knowledge about different types of wines and their origins. The Court stated that these classes of individuals might have to make such decisions only when it comes to celebratory occasions (wherein the Plaintiff’s product was more sought after). The evidence, in this regard, suggested that not everyone was accustomed to different types of wine. Therefore, it was stated that there is a likelihood of individuals being misled by “Spanish Champagne” as “Champagne”.
§ The Court also stated that the Plaintiffs had satisfied their burden of proof of showing that the Defendants’ product reflects untrue statements.
§ More importantly, the Respondents’ product was deceiving, as the Defendants’ product was sold in Spain as “Perelada” and not “Spanish Champagne”. This created a serious doubt as to why the Name was changed to “champagne” in the British Market, where the Plaintiff’s product was widely recognized as “Champagne”. Additionally, the Defendants’ brochure was blatantly trying to “secure the sale of the Plaintiff Company”, as it stated, “Giving a Champagne Party”.

Rule: 
For the actions to be deceptive, a substantial portion of the public must be likely to be misled by the defendants’ product “Spanish Champaign”.

Holding: 
It was held that this was not a case of innocent passing off, and the Defendants try to attract the goodwill of the plaintiff’s company in a deliberate and dishonest manner.

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