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possible EU design right defence for spare parts manufacturers?

12 January 2015

In a case involving Ford Motor Company concerning the unauthorised manufacturer of wheel trims bearing Ford’s trade mark, the Italian tribunal of Torino has requested a preliminary ruling by the CJEU (Case C-500/14).

It has posed two questions, which essentially enquire whether Article 14 of Directive 98/71 and Article 110 of Regulation (EC) No.6/2002 (both transitional provisions on design rights) extend a design law defence for spare parts to manufacturers wishing to apply the original manufacturer’s trade mark to their spare part products (to ensure a consistent look and feel with the rest of the car).

If the CJEU answers in the affirmative (which is unlikely), spares manufacturers may be entitled to freely apply OEM trade marks effectively circumventing trade mark law. With potential to cause considerable confusion amongst the public as to the origin of such products, the CJEU will need to consider this overlap of IP rights very carefully indeed.

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