On February 16th Advocate General Pedro Cruz Villalón has published his opinion on C-523/10 Wintersteiger, a case concerning a jurisdictional matters referred by the Austria Supreme Court [OGH, 5.10.2010 17 OB 8/10s, Wintersteiger].
Just about two month later, on the 19 of April 2012, the ECJ issued its decision on this reference for a preliminary ruling.
The court found that Google AdWords TM-disputes “may be brought before either the courts of the Member State in which the trade mark is registered or the courts of the Member State of the place of establishment of the advertiser”.
What makes the case so delicate is that Austria (place in which the TM is registered) is, in regard to Keyword Advertising cases, the most right holder friendly court in the EU [OGH, 21.06.2010, 17 Ob 3/10f, BergSpechte III], while Germany (member state of the establishment of the advertiser) is fairly liberal on this matter [BGH, 13.01. 2011, Az.: I ZR 125/07, Eis.de].
We are left to see how this decision will increase legal certainty for right holders, online advertisers and of course Google itself.
I’ve updated by little chart as well:
For a deeper analysis: IPKAT: Freedom, security and justice — or skiing with AdWords
Opinion by the GA:
38. As the applicant observed in its written observations, the fact that the registration of the AdWord is intended to cover a geographical area limited to Germany does not preclude – or come close to precluding – customers of the Wintersteiger mark who are located in Austria from using the google.de. search engine either in Austria or in Germany. The fact that the applicant’s market is international and that its German competitor operates from a neighbouring country via a medium, like Google.de, which is freely accessible in Austria and which is in the same language, is a factor that is clearly indicative of the effect which, objectively, the defendant’s conduct has on the ‘Wintersteiger’ mark in Austria.
39. In addition, the fact that the AdWord ‘Wintersteiger’ includes a link which takes the user directly to the defendant’s website, without any reference to the fact that it is a national trade mark linked to an Austrian undertaking, is another factor which, objectively, is likely to contribute to the user, who may be accessing Google.de in Austria without any restriction, confusing the two companies which are competitors on the European Union internal market.
Decision by the ECJ:
Article 5(3) of Council Regulation (EC) No 44/2001 of 22 December 2000 on jurisdiction and the recognition and enforcement of judgments in civil and commercial matters must be interpreted as meaning that an action relating to infringement of a trade mark registered in a Member State because of the use, by an advertiser, of a keyword identical to that trade mark on a search engine website operating under a country-specific top-level domain of another Member State may be brought before either the courts of the Member State in which the trade mark is registered or the courts of the Member State of the place of establishment of the advertiser.