As of 20 January 2022, the use of trademarks containing health claims will be definitively prohibited.
Many products are advertised by the food industry as having health benefits. Margarine were "low in cholesterol" and dried fruits would "promote digestion." Even in the case of sweets, the vitamin content is emphasised. By doing so, it is intended to provide incentives to buy. Many consumers are willing to spend more money on "healthy" foods.
Increased consumer protection through the Health Claims Regulation
Due to the risk of misleading consumers about alleged health effects, the European legislator passed the Health Claims Regulation (Regulation (EC) 1924/2006) in 2006. It regulates the requirements for nutrition and health claims on foods. The Regulation has a wide scope of application. The term "claim" includes any labelling or advertising of the product that declares or even implies that a food has positive nutritional characteristics or that establishes a link between the food and health.
Nutrition claims are only permitted if they are truthful. The Health Claims Regulation lists over 200 common claims such as "sugar-free" or "low-fat" and sets limits for the product name. For example, if a product contains less than 0.5 g of sugar per 100 g, it may be advertised as "sugar-free”.
Health claims are generally prohibited under the Regulation. Products may not simply be associated with a specific health effect ("helps strengthen the immune system"). However, there is the option of going through an approval procedure at the German Federal Office of Consumer Protection and Food Safety (BVL). In 2012, the EU additionally adopted another regulation (Regulation (EU) No. 432/2012), which contains a list of permitted health claims for foods. According to this Regulation, a product with a specified minimum calcium content, for example, may refer to its positive influence on bone preservation.
Need for action by trademark owners
Word and figurative marks are also to be understood as identification of the product. Therefore, they may not readily contain nutrition or health claims such as "low carb" (Hamburg Court of Appeals, 24.04.2014 - 3 W 27/14 ). Terms such as "vital", "fit" or "healthy" are also affected. A well-known German drugstore chain found themselves forced to rename its own brand "Das gesunde Plus" to "Mivolis" due to the Health Claim Regulation.
To protect trademark owners, the Health Claims Regulation contains a transitional provision. According to Art. 27(2), products with trademark protection existing before 1 January 2005 (also by virtue of reputation or renown) may be marketed until 19 January 2022. Only from 20 January 2022, the requirements of the Regulation will also be applying to these trademarks. Trademark owners who nevertheless use trade names that are prohibited under the Health Claims Regulation after 19 January 2022 face the risk of warnings and official measures.
In this context, trademark owners from the food industry should conduct a review of their older trademarks.
Authors: Dr. Andreas Dustmann, Attorney at Law, and Tim Stripling, Research Assistant