As is often the case for IP news from Europe, the IPKat has the best coverage of recent news that Parmesan cheese comes from Parma. More precisely, the European Court of Justice ruled that “Parmigiano Reggiano,” a protected designation of origin (PDO), covers the translation “Parmesan” for cheese, because the latter “constitutes an evocation of that PDO,” and has not become generic.
The proposition that a PDO might become generic, however, was confirmed by the Court. “Of course, a geographical designation could, over time and through use, become a generic name in the sense that consumers cease to regard it as an indication of the geographical origin of the product, and come to regard it only as an indication of a certain type of product. That shift in meaning occurred for instance in the case of the designations “Camembert” and “Brie”.
Between that conclusion and the court’s overall judgment that the German government itself has no obligation to enforce the PDO “Parmigiano Reggiano” (rather, the Italians may enforce the PDO in German courts, against German Parmesan producers), the result tends to absorb geographical indicators of origin (GIs) into the broader consumer-oriented trademark law framework, rather than to treat the two as protecting parallel but distinct interests.
The judgment of the ECJ is here (Commission of the European Communities v Federal Republic of Germany, Case C-132/05 ).