Dispute over Nuremberg Sausage

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Munich Regional Court on Protected Geographical Indication – Case No. 33 O 4023/23

In a legal dispute before the Munich Regional Court I, the focus was on sausages, specifically the grilled sausage. The court had to decide whether the designation “Mini Rostbratwürstchen” infringes on the protected geographical indication “Nürnberger Rostbratwürste.” In its judgment on June 13, 2024, the court found no risk of confusion, allowing the “Mini Rostbratwürstchen” to continue being grilled (Case No. 33 O 4023/23).

Consumers can associate geographical indications with attributes such as quality or taste. Therefore, geographical indications can be protected similarly to trademarks. Such protection exists for origin designations, for example, for Scottish Glen Whisky, Champagne, and others. Even allusions to a protected origin designation can be considered unfair competition, according to the law firm MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte.

Protected Origin Designation – Nuremberg Sausage

The connection between sausages and the city of Nuremberg goes back a long way, and since 2003, “Nürnberger Rostbratwurst” has been a protected geographical indication. A characteristic feature of the Nuremberg Rostbratwurst is, for example, its size, which is only between 7 and 9 centimeters long.

Before the Munich Regional Court, a protection association of sausage manufacturers producing such characteristic sausages in Nuremberg had filed a lawsuit. The association saw a violation of the protected name “Nürnberger Bratwürste / Nürnberger Rostbratwürste” in the sausages labeled as “Mini Rostbratwürstchen” by a producer from Lower Bavaria.

The association argued that under a European Union regulation, protected geographical indications may only be used if they comply with the corresponding product specifications. Geographical indications are comprehensively protected against any unlawful appropriation, imitation, allusion, and other practices that can mislead consumers about the actual origin of the product.

No Consumer Deception

Such deception was present here, as the defendant sausage manufacturer from Lower Bavaria adopted the characteristic size of Nuremberg Rostbratwürste with its “Mini Rostbratwürstchen.” Additionally, the packaging design could lead consumers to associate the product closely with Nuremberg Rostbratwürste. The explicit mention of “Nürnberger” was not necessary for this. Moreover, the defendant had arranged its “Mini Rostbratwürstchen” on a plate with white bread, sauerkraut, and mustard on the internet. This too was an allusion to Nuremberg Rostbratwürste and their typical side dishes, argued the association.

However, the Munich Regional Court did not follow this argument and dismissed the lawsuit. The court stated that the size and shape of the “Mini Rostbratwürstchen” did not establish any connection to a geographical origin. An allusion to the protected name “Nürnberger Rostbratwürste” or “Nürnberger Bratwürste” due to the visibly small size of the sausages and the use of the term “Mini Rostbratwürstchen” was not considered.

Distinctive Characteristic

Furthermore, the court explained that there was no practice that could mislead consumers about the actual origin of the product. According to the European Court of Justice’s case law, the size of the “Mini Rostbratwürstchen” was not a particularly distinctive characteristic due to the large number of similar-sized sausages available on the market. Therefore, the average consumer is accustomed to these products looking quite similar and chooses based on other distinctive criteria when shopping.

Such a distinctive criterion is the specific designation used, whereby generic terms are not regularly perceived. Therefore, the decisive factor remains the indication “Nürnberg” or “Nürnberger.” The use of this indication is thus crucial in determining whether the corresponding product is protected by the geographically protected indication, the Munich Regional Court ruled. The defendant did not claim that their sausages came from Nuremberg. Therefore, there was no consumer deception, the court decided.

Consumers can associate positive attributes such as quality or taste with origin designations. Therefore, protecting origin designations is of high value to companies, which other companies must not exploit unlawfully.

MTR Legal Rechtsanwälte advises on protected geographical indications and other competition law issues.

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