Halloumi manufacturers are celebrating victory after the European Court of Justice found in their favor on 5 March. The Court sided with the Foundation for the Protection of the Traditional Cheese of Cyprus named Halloumi against Belgium-based M.J Dairies, after the latter sought to trademark its cheese product “BBQLOUMI” across Europe.
Although a decision on whether protected designation of origin (PDO) status ought to be conferred on halloumi by the EU remains outstanding, mainly for political reasons, Cypriot cheese manufacturers guard their right to produce their world-famous cheese fiercely. This latest decision will be seen as a significant win in Cyprus’ ongoing battle to protect its distinctive cheese.
Commenting on the Court’s decision, Rebecca Anderson-Smith, Senior Associate at Mewburn Ellis, said:
“Whilst this latest decision is a win for the Foundation, the case is far from over. The General Court must now consider afresh whether there is a likelihood of confusion between HALLOUMI and the BBQLOUMI mark, making sure they demonstrate clearly that they have considered all relevant factors. However, the CJEU has confirmed that the General Court was not mistaken in its assessment of the weak distinctive character of the HALLOUMI mark. It therefore seems unlikely the General Court will reach a different decision when it next considers this case. Ultimately, the vast majority of consumers in the EU will see HALLOUMI as referring to a type of cheese, whereas BBQLOUMI creates quite a different overall impression. Whilst a consumer may well be reminded of HALLOUMI when viewing the BBQLOUMI mark, this is not the same as confusion.
“Steps have now been taken to protect HALLOUMI as a protected designation of origin (PDO) in the EU, which would put it on a par with other protected cheeses like Roquefort, Gorgonzola, Parmigiano Reggiano and Blue Stilton. This right could be enforced much more widely than a trademark registration. There would be no requirement to prove a likelihood of confusion on the part of consumers; instead a PDO can be used to prevent any misuse, imitation or even evocation. The term evocation in particular is interpreted very broadly; it is possible to evoke a PDO without even using the word itself. It could be invaluable in a case like BBQLOUMI. This highlights the importance of ensuring you secure the right type of protection at an early stage and continue to review the protection you have to ensure its still the most appropriate option.”