Lessons from the ECJ on legitimate third-party trademark use

If I sell razorblades, can I communicate to consumers that my product is compatible with a razor marketed under a world-famous brand? If I sell articles of clothing and the name of my shop is identical to a mark that has been registered for clothes, do I infringe? What about toys: can I produce a replica of a famous car and use the manufacturer’s registered trademark on my model car? Sometimes truth can be stranger than fiction. When such tricky questions arise, the national courts of EU member states may refer a case to the European Court of Justice (ECJ) to obtain guidance on how their harmonised trademark laws should be interpreted. The ECJ has said that in such circumstances, use by a third party does not automatically infringe the brand owner’s registered rights.

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