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The Spanish Supreme Court confirmed in a recent ruling the interpretative criteria established by the European Court of Justice (ECJ) with respect to the term “evocation” contained in legislation on protected designations of origin (PDO), thus resolving the case that gave rise to the preliminary ruling by the ECJ in its judgment of May 2, 2019.

As we have already discussed in this blog, the dispute arises from the proceedings brought in 2012 by the Fundación Consejo Regulador de la Denominación de Origen Protegida Queso Manchego (the “Queso Manchego Foundation”), requesting a ruling that the labels Industrial Quesera Cuquellera used to market its cheeses “Adarga de Oro,” “Súper Rocinante” and “Rocinante” infringed the PDO “Queso Manchego” under applicable legislation.

In its judgment, the Supreme Court concludes that using figurative signs reproducing the figure of Don Quixote, his horse Rocinante and landscapes with windmills constitutes an evocation of the PDO Queso Manchego.

This resolution is particularly important for two reasons: (i) for the first time the court interprets that evocation may occur by the use of figurative elements, such as illustrations on the labels used by the defendant, and not just by the use of word elements; and (ii) the Spanish Supreme Court establishes that evocation is constituted by the use of signs evoking the geographical area with which a PDO is associated.

Specifically, the Spanish Supreme Court emphasizes that the region of La Mancha, unlike other regions on which other PDOs are based, has a series of symbols that are “easily recognizable by the average consumer as relating to this region, because the literary work “Don Quixote” and several of its elements (characters, landscapes) are widely recognized by the general public, and the association of that literary work with that region is obvious.” Specifically,

the Spanish Supreme Court understands that these elements have a sufficiently clear and direct conceptual proximity to the region of La Mancha, so that the image of these signs on a cheese may trigger Manchego Cheese in the mind of the consumer, as a reference image.

All of which is, furthermore, regardless of whether the use is made by a producer established in region of La Mancha. In fact, the Spanish Supreme Court understands that using signs and symbols that evoke this region encourages the association by the consumer of cheeses not covered by the PDO with those that are.

Lastly, the Spanish Supreme Court partially annulled the trade name “Rocinante” and two mixed national trade marks for evocation of the PDO, i.e., incurring grounds for annulment.

As we mentioned, the judgment of the Spanish Supreme Court was issued following the interpretation made by the ECJ judgment in response to the preliminary rulings referred by the Spanish Supreme Court. The ECJ declared that evocation does not only occur by the use of word elements, but it may also be caused by figurative elements such as those under dispute in the main proceedings. It also confirmed that the use of elements that evoke the geographical region to which a POD is associated may constitute evocation of that PDO, even when used by a producer established in that same region.

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