C-406/10 SAS Institute v. World Programming Ltd (WPL)

The ECJ issued an important ruling last week regarding how far copyright protection for software should extend.

The case involves two software development companies: SAS and WPL. SAS Institute developed a set of computer programs used for data analysis (the ‘SAS System’) that allows users to write and run their own Scripts in an SAS-specific programming language (para. 24).

WPL developed a competing program called the World Programming System that sought to emulate the SAS System as close as possible. In the process, it obtained a license to the “Learning Edition” of the SAS program and manuals, which it studied, but did not access or copy the SAS source code. The World Programming System is written in the SAS Language, and is designed to allow the use of Scripts originally written for the SAS System (para. 25)…

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Jurisdiction in cases of Google AdWord Trademark infringement

Another episode in the line of cases before the Court concerning Google AdWords. The Intellectual Property battle over the use of trademarks as keywords for the purpose of triggering advertisements on Google’s search result pages can be seen in the cases (most notably) C-236-238/08 Google/Louis Vuitton, C-558/08 Portakabin, C-324/09 L’Oréal/eBay and C-323/09 Interflora. The recently handed down judgment in the case Wintersteiger (C-523/10) however, concerns the interpretation of the notion ‘place where the harmful event occurred or may occur’ in Article 5(3) Brussels I Regulation in cases of alleged Trademark infringement through registration of a Google AdWord.

An Austrian company, Wintersteiger, initiated proceedings in Austria for infringement of its Austrian Trademark ‘Wintersteiger’ by a German company, Products 4U. Products 4U had reserved the Trademark  ‘Wintersteiger’ as Google Adword for Google’s German top-level domain (www.google.de). Wintersteiger argued that the Austrian judge could assume jurisdiction under Article 5(3) since the website google.de is also accessible in Austria. On appeal, the Austrian Oberster Gerichtshof (OGH) asked the Court which criteria are to be used to determine jurisdiction under Article 5(3) to hear an action relating to an alleged infringement of a trademark through the use of a Google AdWord on the website operating under a top-level domain different from that of the Member State where the trademark is registered…

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What can the EU do about Argentina’s Expropriation of Spanish Investments?

Argentina made headlines last week with its plan to nationalize oil company YPF. The decision to expropriate 51% of the shares in YPF hydrocarbons corporation–eliminating the controlling stake of Spanish firm Repsol–was announced on 16 April, and was accompanied by a takeover of the company’s office by Argentine authorities.

In response, Repsol has announced its intent to pursue an expropriation claim, and Spain has taken retaliatory measures, seeking to restrict imports of biodiesel fuel from Argentina.

The EU has made clear its displeasure with Argentina and its intent to support Spain. But given that this is an investment case that legally falls primarily under the Spain-Argentina bilateral investment treaty (BIT), what role can the EU play?

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Case C-571/10 Kamberaj: the Charter and not the ECHR has effect in Member States’ legal orders

In a grand chamber judgment on Tuesday (case C-571/10 Kamberaj), the Court dealt with some fun and intriguing aspects of EU law, which relate to the relationship between the ECHR, EU law and national law on social security matters.

Mr Kamberaj, an Albanian national with a residence permit for an indefinite period in Italy, was denied certain housing benefits because the funds for those benefits were exhausted. Mr Kambery was of the opinion that this resulted in discriminatory treatment between him, a third country national, and Union citizens since the funding of those housing benefits was split in two categories namely Union citizens and third country nationals and only the funds for the latter category were exhausted.

There are two interesting aspects of EU law in this case:

  • Firstly, the relationship between the EU legal order and the national legal order with respect to the ECHR;
  • and secondly, the interpretation of Directive 2003/109/EC on the status of third country nationals and its implications for national social security systems.

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The burden of proof in cases of discrimination during recruitment

The Rewe/Comet doctrine establishes that in the absence Union rules on procedural law, it is the responsibility of the Member States’ legal systems to provide for remedies stemming from EU law subject to the principle of effectiveness (national procedural rules may not make it impossible to exercise EU rights) and equivalence (national procedural law may not discriminate between EU remedies and similar domestic actions). This doctrine was developed out of the duty of loyal cooperation (article 4 (3) TEU). Of course, as European integration continues, procedural law gets harmonised more and more. So what happens if there are EU rules on procedural law, but those rules have not fully been harmonised? How does the duty of loyal cooperation affect the interpretation of those rules? In C-415/10 Meister the Court held that the duty of loyal cooperation requires, not surprisingly, national courts to make sure that in applying national procedural law the achievement of the objectives of secondary EU law are not compromised.

Ms Meister, a Russian national and systems engineer, applied for a job as ‘experienced software developer’ at a company called Speech Design. She was rejected twice (the job ad was published again after Ms Meister was turned down the first time) by Speech Design without letting her know the grounds for which she was unsuccessful in her application. Ms Meister subsequently brought an action for damages because she believed that she was being discriminated against on grounds of her sex, age and ethnic origin. The question was whether EU law (Directives 2000/43 on equal treatment on the basis of ethnicity, 2000/78 on equal treatment in employment and 2006/54 on equal treatment on grounds of sex in matters of employment) required the employer to disclose information on the grounds of refusal if a candidate demonstrates she meets the requirements listed in the job ad.

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EU FTA with Colombia and Peru moving forward, but still faces challenges

The long process of negotiating a free trade agreement (FTA) with members of the Andean Community may be winding up in the next few months. On 16 March 2012, the EU’s trade ministers authorized Trade Commissioner Karel de Gucht to sign the FTA with Colombia and Peru once it has been finalized. This means that the agreement could get the go-ahead as early as September, if the European Parliament gives its consent.

However, concerns about labor rights could stall the FTA on its way through the European Parliament. The agreement does contain commitments related to the enforcement of both labor and environmental standards. However, trade unionists and other groups are calling for a “no” on the FTA in protest against labor rights violations in Colombia.

This tension echoes the debate that has been raging in the US Congress for the past several years regarding the approval of a US FTA with Colombia. Though the US-Colombia FTA was signed in November 2006, it only received the approvial of Congress in October 2011, after the conclusion of a special Labor Action Plan to ensure protection of labor rights.

The EU-Colombia/Peru FTA is the product of negotiations that began in 2007 with the Andean Community. The broader talks were suspended in 2008 due to differences within the Andean bloc, following which the EU went on to complete negotiations only with Colombia and Peru. The FTA will remain open to signature by Ecuador and Bolivia, the two remaining members of the Andean Community.

For those who would like to read further, an extensive analysis of the agreement and its costs and benefits is available here.

VAT Litigation in Italy: Union Loyalty vs. fundamental rights

Member States are obliged to take all necessary measures to ensure fulfillment of their obligations under EU law according to article 4(3) TEU. This includes taking all legislative and administrative measures appropriate for ensuring collection of VAT in conformity with the obligations imposed on Member States by the EU VAT Directive (Directive 2006/112/EC) and its predecessors (amongst which the Sixth Directive, 1977/388/EEC). One may ask whether national legislation, by which a national court is effectively prohibited to judge in certain long-lasting VAT disputes in favour of the tax authorities, complies with the Member State’s obligation to collect VAT. In the case Belvedere Construzioni Srl (Case C-500/10) this was under discussion vis-à-vis the principle of resolving judicial proceedings in tax matters within reasonable time under Article 6(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. Somewhat hidden is furthermore the problem whether tax authorities can directly invoke an EU directive to set aside national law to the disadvantage of a taxpayer.

What is the case? Well, Italy has introduced a decree by which (in essence) courts have to conclude tax disputes automatically if the first actions in the dispute have been lodged more than ten years before the date of entry into force of the decree (at the 26th of May 2010) and if two courts have already decided in favour of the tax payer. By introducing the decree, Italy aimed to comply with the obligation to resolve judicial proceedings in tax matters within reasonable time under Article 6(1) of the European Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms. According to the decree, the referring court in the case at hand has to conclude the VAT dispute between Belvedere Construzioni Srl and the Italian tax authorities automatically in favour of Belvedere Construzioni Srl. However, the referring court calls into question the conformity of the decree with EU-law.

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EU-Competition Law in the Overseas: some recent French precedents

Parts of the territory of some EU-Member States are situated overseas. Does EU-Competition law apply there? Some recent French precedents answer this question. According to Art. 52 TEU the EU-treaties apply to the 27 Member States mentioned therefore. EU-law applies, in principle, to the whole territory of those Member States including the overseas parts of their territory. In Art. 355 TFEU, the territorial scope of the EU-treaties is further specified. There are more or less three ‘categories’ or ‘degrees’ of territorial scope with regard to the overseas (for a more extensive and general description see Kochenov’s article).

  1. First, the Outermost Regions, where EU-law applies, with the possibility for temporary exceptions to the acquis of the EU; although the term ‘temporary’ is perhaps not the right word, since the derogations are constantly extended. The Outermost Regions consist of the French départements d’outre-mer, the Spanish Canary Islands and the Portuguese Azores and Madeira.
  2. Secondly, the Overseas Countries and Territories (OCT) , where EU-law applies, with the possibility for more permanent exceptions to the acquis of the Union. On the OCTs a special regime of EU-law is applicable: the association regime (of Part IV of the TFEU). The OCTs are listed in Annex II to the TFEU and consist of Danish Greenland, the French territoires and collectivités d’outre-mer, the Caribbean part of the Netherlands and most of 12 British Overseas Territories.
  3. And thirdly, custom made regimes for specific parts of some Member States, such as the Channel Islands and Åland Islands. In addition some custom made regimes can be found in the accessions treaties, such as Gibraltar and the Spanish territories Ceuta and Mellila, which are situated on the African continent.

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