ECJ: NO COPYRIGHT PROTECTION FOR THE TASTE OF FOOD PRODUCT
On November 13, 2018, the ECJ issued its judgement in the case which involves two Dutch manufacturers of spreadable cream cheese dip stating that the copyright cannot vest in the taste of a spreadable cheese.
In 2007 a spreadable dip with cream cheese and fresh herbs “Heksenkaas” has been created and the intellectual property right of such product belong to the Dutch company “Levola”. Since January 2014 another Dutch company “Smilde” has been manufacturing a product called “Witte Wievenkaas”, a spreadable dip with cream cheese, for a supermarket chain in the Netherlands. Levola brought an action against Smilde where it maintained that the sale of “Witte Wievenkaas” infringed its copyright in the taste of “Heksenkaas”. It, therefore, claimed that Smilde should cease production and sale of the product, since the taste of “Henksenkaas” is a work protected before copyright and that the taste of “Witte Wievenkaas” is a reproduction of that work.
Hearing the case on the appeal, the Gerechtshof ArnhemLeeuwarden (the Dutch Regional Court of Appeal) asked the ECJ whether the taste of a food product can be protected under the Copyright Directive (Directive 2001/29/EC).
The Court firstly noted that the notion of “work” is an autonomous concept of EU law, that is to be given an autonomous and uniform interpretation throughout the EU. Then the Court clarified that, in order to be protected by copyright under the Directive, the taste of a food product must be capable of being classified as a ‘work’ within the meaning of the Directive. Classification as a ‘work’ requires, first of all, that the subject matter concerned is an original intellectual creation. Secondly, there must be an ‘expression’ of that original intellectual creation.
In accordance with the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights, which was adopted in the framework of the World Trade Organization and to which the EU has acceded, and with the WIPO Copyright Treaty, to which the EU is a party, copyright protection may be granted to expressions, but not to ideas, procedures, methods of operation or mathematical concepts as such. It, therefore, follows that for there to be a “work” as referred to in the Directive, the subject matter protected by copyright must be expressed in a manner which makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity.
In that regard, the Court found that the taste of a food product cannot be identified with precision and objectivity. Unlike, for example, a literary, pictorial, cinematographic or musical work, which is a precise and objective expression, the taste of a food product will be identified essentially on the basis of taste sensations and experiences, which are subjective and variable. They depend on, amongst other things, factors particular to the person tasting the product concerned, such as age, food preferences and consumption habits, as well as on the environment or context in which the product is consumed. Moreover, it is not possible in the current state of scientific development to achieve by technical means a precise and objective identification of the taste of a food product which enables it to be distinguished from the taste of other products of the same kind.