In its judgment of January, 25 (C-334/22), the CJEU clarified that a car manufacturer can prohibit the use of a sign for spare parts if it contains an element that is similar or identical to a trademark.
Audi’s well-known four-rings trademark is registered in the EU for vehicles and spare parts, among other things. A Polish dealer was selling copied radiator grilles intended for older Audi vehicles. The radiator grilles contained an element whose shape is similar or identical to the Audi trademark and is also intended for mounting the four-ring trademark.
In 2017, Audi took action against this dealer in Poland. The aim was to obtain a ban on marketing copied radiator grilles of the aforementioned type. The Polish court referred the case to the CJEU with the request to clarify whether the marketing of replacement car parts at issue (specifically: radiator grilles) constituted “use of a sign in the course of trade” that could impair the functions of the Audi brand. Furthermore, the national court wanted to clarify whether the owner of this trademark can prohibit a third party from such use.
In its judgment, the Court affirms this. It states that in the present case, the radiator grilles did not originate from the trade mark proprietor and had been placed on the market without its consent. The part intended for affixing the Audi emblem was integrated into the radiator grilles for their marketing by the third party. It is therefore visible to the public wishing to purchase such a spare part. This could constitute a factual link between the spare part in question and the owner of the AUDI mark. Therefore, such use could impair the functions of the trademark (including the origin or quality of the goods).
However, the specific legal dispute still has to be decided by the court in Warsaw, which is bound by the legal opinion of the CJEU. The CJEU left it to the Polish court to examine whether the disputed part on the radiator grille is identical or similar to the Audi brand.
Should Audi actually prevail in the proceedings, the practical consequence of the ruling is likely to be that radiator grille manufacturers will in future maintain a significant distance from (automotive) brands when designing corresponding products in order to avoid brand collisions.