The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) – Europe’s highest court – has recently delivered a judgment that will provide a boost to carmakers over manufacturers of “unofficial”/“non-original” spare parts.  The dispute in question originated in Poland, where a spare part retailer (“GQ”) was selling replacement radiator grilles for old Audi car models from the 1980s and 1990s.  Specifically, the grilles were provided with an element which was designed to receive an emblem depicting the “four rings” logo of Audi.

Was the Audi-style grille considered a trade mark infringement?

The case was referred to the CJEU asking the question whether the provision of an element designed to enable the attachment of an emblem which is protected by a registered trade mark itself constitutes registered trade mark infringement.

audi grille aftermarket parts

Audi asserted that the provision of a grille having the element in question, which is identical with or similar to Audi’s registered trade mark was an infringement of their trade mark rights.  GQ contested the claims and asserted that it was a common practice of motor vehicle manufacturers whereby they do not object to the sale of non-original radiator grilles incorporating an element designed for the attachment of the emblem representing their brand.

Ultimately, the CJEU determined that the element provided to attach the Audi emblem was sufficiently similar to the registered trade mark that it would cause confusion and lead consumers to believe that the grilles were at least commercially linked with Audi when the fact is they weren’t.  Consequently, there was found to be registered trade mark infringement.

Impact on the wider aftermarket industry

The wider implications of this decision are that manufacturers and retailers of “non-original” spare parts must take care not to replicate a sign or emblem which is the same or similar to that of a registered trade mark, in an attempt to resemble the original part as closely as possible.  In this instance, the defendant strayed too far – in practice, could they not have provided an element or elements for the attachment of Audi’s emblem that did not so closely resemble the mark itself?


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