CAN DON QUIXOTE SERVE AS THE KEEPER OF SPANISH MANCHEGO CHEESE? / by Nikolaas Tilkin-Franssens

In its judgment of 2 May 2019, the European Court of Justice has ruled that images or illustrations which trigger association with a certain region or area can be part of the protection of a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) or a Protected Geographical Indication (PGI).

The ruling related to the PDO of Spanish Manchego cheese but has essentially provided for an extensive protection of PDOs in general. European rules on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs protect registered names (PDOs and PGIs) against any misuse, imitation or evocation. For the given case, the European Court was asked to interpret the extent of ‘evocation’ in terms of figurative signs.

The request for a preliminary ruling was triggered by the local foundation responsible to oversee the Manchego cheese PDO. The foundation initiated proceedings against a local distributor selling cheeses that were not covered by the protected designation of origin of Manchego cheeses. The cheeses only had names linked to the famous literary character Don Quixote de La Mancha and depicted typical features of the la Mancha region in Spain, including landscapes, windmills and sheep.

Although the cheeses did not have a name similar to Manchego, the foundation persisted and eventually appealed to Spanish Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided to stay proceedings and ask the European Court of Justice whether the use of figurative signs could also trigger the evocation of the ’Manchego PDO.

The Court of Justice decided the protection of registered names does not only refer to words ”but also to any figurative sign capable of evoking in the mind of the consumer products whose designation is protected”. The national court will further need to determine whether the respective images “are capable of triggering directly in the consumer’s mind the products whose names are registered”. Furthermore, the Spanish court will also need to consider whether the link between the illustrations of local features and the PDO is sufficiently strong to create a conceptual proximity, taking account that the challenged producer is established in the same region. The court added that the consideration should be based on the concept of the average consumer who is reasonably well informed and reasonably observant and circumspect. This concept should cover European consumers, “including consumers of the Member State in which the product giving rise to evocation of the protected name is made or with which that name is geographically associated and in which the product is mainly consumed”.

EU Court of Justice, Case C‑614/17, Fundación Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Protegida Queso Manchego v Industrial Quesera Cuquerella SL, Juan Ramón Cuquerella Montagud - link