Should the trademark owner be held liable for a product defect, even if they did not manufacture the goods? That was the question at the heart of a recent dispute before the Court of Justice of the EU. Noa Rubingh examines the ruling and its implications for trademark owners.
Suppose a fire breaks out in your home and the investigation report shows your new coffee maker to be the cause. You make a claim to your insurance provider who then submits a claim to the owner of the trademark that is visible on the product. In this case, the coffee maker was manufactured by Saeco Group SpA (a subsidiary of Philips) and both the coffee maker and its packaging bear the logos of both Saeco and Philips, so the insurance company submits its claim to Koninklijke Philips NV, which is the registrant of both the Philips and Saeco logos. But, is that fair? Not according to Koninklijke Philips, which argued in a recent case that such a claim is unfounded since it is the manufacturer that is liable for product defects, not the trademark owner (if it did not create the products).
On 7 July this year, this case came before the Court of Justice of the EU (CJEU), the highest European court, which ruled that liability for defective products is not limited to the company that actually produced a product (the ‘producer’). Instead, the ‘person’ whose name, trademark or other distinctive element has been placed on the product is equally liable for any fault. Read more