European Commission Presents Comprehensive Soft Law Measures to Ensure that Intellectual Property Rights are Well Protected, Including Issuing Guidance on the Enforcement Directive

By Kletia Noti

Introduction

On November 29, 2017, the European Commission (“Commission”) adopted a comprehensive package of measures aimed at further improving the application and enforcement of intellectual property rights (IPRs) within the EU Member States, in the EU and internationally (hereinafter, “IPRs enforcement package”)[1]. The measures encompass several soft law instruments in the form of Communications, accompanied by staff working documents and reports[2].

The IPRs enforcement package is the last in a series of efforts undertaken by the Commission over the last few years to enhance enforcement of IPRs and ensure that these rights are well-protected in the online environment. In its July 2014 communication[3], the Commission laid down an Action Plan proposing ten specific actions marking a shift in its policy approach towards new enforcement tools to fight IPR infringements. Instead of focusing on penalizing users for IPRs infringements, the Commission announced that it would seek to foster better enforcement of IPRs through the “follow the money” approach, aimed at depriving commercial-scale infringers of their revenue flows. The Commission also expressed the view that non-legislative measures (including cooperation between stakeholders) should be encouraged. In its Digital Single Market[4] and the Single Market[5] communications, the Commission announced its commitment towards improving IPR enforcement in light of the digital developments[6]. In the May 2017 Mid-Term Review on the implementation of the Digital Single Market Strategy[7], the Commission indicated that it was finalizing its evaluation of the current legal framework for the enforcement of all IPRs, including copyright[8]. Against this background, the IPRs enforcement package constitutes a culmination of the Commission’s efforts on this front.

 

The IPR package: an overview

Communication COM (2017) 707[9] describes the different measures adopted as part of the broader package and provides the framework for the Commission’s proposed actions on IPRs enforcement. First, it sets out measures aimed at further improving the judicial enforcement of IPRs in the EU. These measures encompass guidance on the application of the Enforcement Directive (contained in a separate Communication, also adopted as part of the package[10]); awareness raising and improving cooperation with national judges (whose specialization in IPR-related matters is encouraged); increasing transparency of EU Member States’ judgments on IPRs enforcement, as well as fostering the development of alternative dispute resolution mechanisms to solve IPR disputes. Second, the Communication prescribes actions to support industry-led initiatives to fight IP infringements, including self-regulatory initiatives (such as voluntary agreements between rights-holders and intermediaries) and steps to better protect supply chains against counterfeiting. A Staff Working Document on self-regulation measures to fight the sale of counterfeited products accompanies the Communication[11]. In addition, the Commission announces that a new MoU aimed at withholding advertising on IP infringing websites is being developed by stakeholders. At the same time, it encourages stakeholders to further cooperate through voluntary agreements. It also encourages the industry to further promote due diligence in supply chains, explore the potential of new technologies (e.g. blockchain) and encourage the further inclusion of IP protection in accreditation processes. Third, the Communication also lays down initiatives to strengthen the administrative authorities’ capacity to enforce IPRs. Fourth, in this Communication the Commission announces its support for measures to strengthen efforts to fight IP infringements at a global scale, including through the promotion of best practices and stepping up co-operation with third countries.

In addition to the above measures, in its IPRs enforcement package, the Commission also issued its long-awaited guidance on the EU approach to Standard Essential Patents (SEPs)[12].

 

The Commission’s Guidance on the Enforcement Directive

The Commission’s Guidance on the Enforcement Directive (hereinafter, “Guidance”) follows its public consultation launched in 2015, as well as its evaluation of the Enforcement Directive carried out in 2016 in the context of its steps to further improve the application and enforcement of IPRs, as announced in the Single Market Strategy and Digital Single Market Strategy communications.   While the evaluation found the Enforcement Directive to be fit for purpose, the consulted stakeholders asked for more clarity as to how its provisions should be applied.

First, the purpose and scope of the Guidance will be briefly highlighted. Subsequently, the article will zoom into the Commission’s clarifications on injunctions which national courts can adopt on the basis of Articles 9 and 11 of the Enforcement Directive.

A piece of EU legislation of minimum harmonization, adopted more than a decade ago, the Enforcement Directive has led to diverging interpretations of its provisions across the EU Member States, many of which prompted national courts to refer questions to the Court of Justice in preliminary rulings. The Commission considers this to be due to several reasons, not the least of which the different procedural frameworks across Member States. Such divergence may reduce legal predictability for the stakeholders involved. Against this background, the Guidance aims at clarifying certain aspects of the Enforcement Directive, so as to ensure a more consistent and effective interpretation and application of its provisions by competent judicial authorities and other parties involved in the enforcement of IPRs.

The Commission acknowledges that, in all cases where the Enforcement Directive provisions interpreted and applied and where various conflicting fundamental rights protected in the EU’s legal order are at stake, a fair balance must be struck between these rights, in light of the principle of proportionality[13]. Its clarifications encompass several aspects of the Directive, including its scope, the rules on evidence, damages, reimbursement of legal costs, the right for rights-holders to obtain information on the infringers enshrined under Article 8, and the right to provisional and precautionary measures and injunctions under Section 4 of the Directive. Additionally, it seeks to clarify what “fair and equitable” measures and remedies means, as laid down under Article 3(1) of the Directive[14].

In particular, the Enforcement Directive requires EU Member States to make certain measures available to rights-holders, including the ability to apply for an (interlocutory or permanent) injunction to prevent an imminent infringement, or to prohibit the continuation of the alleged infringement (see Article 9(1)(a) for interlocutory injunctions and Article 11 for permanent injunctions), subject to the requirements set out under Article 3[15].

While the interpretation of these provisions under EU law has led to a rich body of case law of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), uncertainties as to the scope of injunctions issued by national judges remain[16]. In order to provide guidance to national courts and parties involved in IPRs disputes, the Commission tackles the following aspects:

  • Liability and injunctions. The Commission clarifies that, under EU law, liability for an alleged infringement and the possibility for the competent judicial authorities to issue injunctions are two separate questions. According to the Commission, the possibility to issue an injunction on the basis of Article 9(1)(a) and Article 11 of the Enforcement Directive does not depend on the intermediaries’ liability for the alleged infringement. Therefore, the competent judicial authorities cannot compel plaintiffs to prove that the intermediary is liable (even indirectly) as a condition for an injunction to be granted.

To this end, the Commission references the CJEU’s case law, both applicable to the online and offline world. In the landmark L’Oréal v eBay judgment[17], which among others concerned the interpretation of Article 11 of the Enforcement Directive, the CJEU (in Grand Chambers) held inter alia that “the third sentence of Article 11 of Directive 2004/48, according to which the Member States must ensure ‘that rights-holders are in a position to apply for an injunction against intermediaries whose services are used by a third party to infringe an intellectual property right …’ (…) involves determining whether that provision requires the Member States to ensure that the operator of an online marketplace may, regardless of any liability of its own in relation to the facts at issue, be ordered to take, in addition to measures aimed at bringing to an end infringements of intellectual property rights brought about by users of its services, measures aimed at preventing further infringements of that kind”[18]. In addition, the Commission also references the more recent Tommy Hilfiger judgment[19]. This latter judgment interestingly did not concern online intermediaries, but rather the imposition of an injunction on Delta Center, a physical marketplace, which the CJEU considered as caught by the scope of Article 11 of the Enforcement Directive.

  • Notion of “intermediary” caught by the scope of Articles 9(1)(a) and 11 of the Enforcement Directive. Both these provisions refer to “any intermediary whose services are used by a third party to infringe intellectual property rights”. However, the Commission recalls that the notion of “intermediary” is not further clarified in the Enforcement Directive. Against this background, the Commission draws attention to the CJEU’s UPC Telekabel[20] and Tommy Hilfiger[21] judgments: importantly, the Commission notes that in Tommy Hilfiger the CJEU clarified the notion of “intermediary” in the sense of UPC Telekabel. In UPC Telekabel the CJEU considered that the notion of “intermediary” whose services are used by a third party to infringe copyrights under Directive 2001/29[22] also encompasses those internet service providers which do not have a specific relationship with the person infringing the copyright and the related rights. In Tommy Hilfiger the CJEU declared that an intermediary in the sense of the Enforcement Directive need not have a specific relationship, such as a contractual link, with the IPR infringing party. The Commission also reiterates that “the application of Articles 9(1)(a) and 11 of the Enforcement Directive spans across different sectors and includes both online and offline services.” Importantly, the Commission considers that the case law of the CJEU acknowledging that several categories, such as internet service providers (“ISPs”), social networking platforms, online marketplaces and physical marketplaces should be seen as “intermediaries” for the purposes of the Enforcement Directive is merely illustrative but not exhaustive. Therefore, the notion of “intermediary” is flexible and capable of being interpreted on a case by case basis.

In addition, the Commission[23] considers that when the intermediary is so distant from the (alleged) infringement he cannot reasonably be expected to contribute to the enforcement of IPRs and its involvement in such enforcement would be “disproportionate” and “unnecessarily burdensome”[24]. However, the Commission does not further clarify what an involvement “so distant or immaterial to the alleged infringement.” is. What does this mean concretely and—where is the line drawn between “distant” and “close involvement”? Does this mean that the rights-holders can ask intermediaries “close to the infringement” to bear the burden of ensuring the effective enforcement of IPRs and under which criteria? This is likely to lead to additional preliminary references before the CJEU, since it is likely judges in various EU Member States may interpret this notion differently.

  • Scope of injunctions. In the context of the balancing of rights and interests which underpins how the scope of injunctions can be interpreted, the Commission reiterates the importance of the principle of proportionality, one of the primary law principles of the European Union[25]. It also recalls the respect for Art. 3 of the Enforcement Directive, as well as fundamental rights by national courts. When it comes to proportionality, the Commission considers that judges ought not to issue injunctions which require measures that go beyond what is appropriate and necessary in light of the facts and circumstances of the case at hand to prevent an imminent infringement or to prohibit the continuation of an infringement. Recalling the limitations to the scope of injunctions[26] that the CJEU gave in UPC Telekabel[27], the Commission frames them in the following fashion: “the CJEU also clarified that[28] the competent judicial authorities may decide not to explicitly describe the specific measures which the provider must take to achieve the result sought. However, the CJEU also made it clear that in such cases a number of conditions are to be respected, notably that the measures do not go beyond what is reasonable, respect the principle of legal certainty, compliance with the fundamental rights of the parties concerned including the internet users’ freedom of information, strict targeting of the measures and a possibility for the competent judicial authorities to verify that these conditions have been complied with, notably through a possibility for the internet users concerned to assert their rights once those measures are known”[29].

Importantly, the Commission considers that the measures ordered via an injunction need not lead to a complete cessation of the IPR infringements[30], as long as they make the infringing acts difficult or seriously discourage them[31]. However, the intermediary should not be required to bear “unbearable sacrifices”[32].

Against the above background, two observations are necessary: first, the Commission clarified that the limitations to the scope of injunctions that the CJEU laid down in UPC Telekabel, a case concerning copyright, apply also to other IPRs. Second, the Commission reiterates that injunctions should respect Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive[33], laying out a ban on general monitoring and any such broad injunction violating such provision, according to the Commission, would concomitantly infringe Article 3 of the Directive[34]. However, the Commission recalls that the E-Commerce Directive at Recital 47 allows for specific monitoring obligations and Recital 48 adds that this Directive does not affect the possibility for Member States to require the service providers concerned to apply reasonable duties of care in order to detect and prevent certain types of illegal activities[35]. In the light of this, according to the Commission “where appropriate and within the limits of the abovementioned provisions,[36] certain due diligence obligations may be imposed e.g. on providers of online hosting services with a view to preventing the upload of IPR infringing content identified by rights-holders and in cooperation with them”.

Can an injunction ordering the prevention of future infringements be a possible example of “due diligence” obligations? What is the scope of these obligations in the light of the limitations that the Commission recalls? Recent doctrine interprets the Tommy Hilfiger ruling as confined to allowing only the extent of specific injunctions to prevent future infringements to measures which contribute to avoiding new infringements of the same nature by the same market trader[37].

At the same time, while as an example of such obligations, the Commission refers to Article 13 of the Commission’s proposed Copyright Directive, some authors, in response to questions asked by various EU Member States in the context of the Commission’s proposal, consider that the current drafting of this proposed article itself may raise concerns in terms of compliance with EU law[38].

[1] Commission Press Release, Intellectual property: Protecting Europe’s know-how and innovation leadership, November 29, 2017.

[2] Communication “A balanced IP enforcement system responding to today’s societal challenges”, COM (2017) 707, accompanied by Staff Working Document SWD (2017) 430 “Overview of the functioning of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the sale of counterfeit goods via the internet.”, Communication “Guidance on certain aspects of Directive 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the enforcement of intellectual property rights”, COM (2017) 708 (hereinafter “Guidance on the Enforcement Directive”), accompanied  by  Staff  Working  Document Report on the Evaluation of Directive on the enforcement of intellectual property rights, SWD (2017) 431,  COM(2017) 712 final, Communication “Setting out the EU approach to standard essential patents”.

[3]Commission Communication, COM/2014/0392 final, “Towards a renewed consensus on the enforcement of Intellectual Property Rights: An EU Action Plan”. Also see, for its strategy on improving the fight against IPR infringements in third countries, Commission Communication, “Trade, growth and intellectual property – Strategy for the protection and enforcement of intellectual property rights in third countries”, COM(2014) 389 final, 1 July 2014.

[4]Commission Communication, “A Digital Single Market Strategy for Europe”, COM/2015/0192, May 6, 2015.

[5]Commission Communication, “Upgrading the Single Market:  more opportunities for people and businesses”, COM/2015/0550, October 28, 2015.

[6] Between 2015 and 2016, the Commission ran a public consultation to assess the functioning of Directive 2004/48/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council on the enforcement of intellectual property rights (“Enforcement Directive”).

[7] Commission Communication, COM(2017) 228 final, May 10, 2017.

[8]The Commission also adopted initiatives aimed at updating the legal framework applicable to copyright in order to adapt the existing rules to the Internet technological developments: see Communication “Promoting a fair, efficient and competitive European copyright-based economy in the Digital Single Market”, COM(2016)592, September 14, 2016 and Proposal for a Directive of the European Parliament and of the Council on Copyright in the Digital Single Market of  September 14, 2016 (“proposed Copyright Directive”).

[9] See supra, fn. 2.

[10]See Guidance on the Enforcement Directive, supra, fn. 2.

[11] Staff Working Document SWD (2017) 430 “Overview of the functioning of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the sale of counterfeit goods via the internet.” On the basis of a set of key performance indicators (KPIs), the Staff Working Document provides an empirical overview on how the MoU, first adopted in 2011 and subsequently updated in 2016, functioned between June 21, 2016 and June 21, 2017. Such indicators show that the MoU is proving effective and has already significantly contributed to curbing online counterfeiting.

[12] See supra, fn. 2.

[13] See, Enforcement Directive Guidance, Section III, page 11.

[14] Under Article 3(1) of the Enforcement Directive, the measures, procedures and remedies necessary to ensure the enforcement of the intellectual property rights covered by this Directive (…) shall be fair and equitable and shall not be unnecessarily complicated or costly, or entail unreasonable time-limits or unwarranted delays.

[15] See supra, fn. 14. Under Article 3(2), “those measures, procedures and remedies shall also be effective, proportionate and dissuasive and shall be applied in such a manner as to avoid the creation of barriers to legitimate trade and to provide for safeguards against their abuse.”

[16] For a thorough overview, see M.Husovec, Injunctions Against Intermediaries in the European Union, Accountable but not Liable, Cambridge University Press, 2017.

[17] See Judgment of the CJEU (Grand Chamber) of 12 July 2011, C-324/09, L’Oréal SA and Others v eBay International AG and Others, para. 127. In this judgment, the court considered that measures to prevent further infringements can be applied under Article 11 of the Directive.

[18] Id. The Commission also recalls cases C-70/10, Scarlet Extended, para. 31; C-360/10, SABAM, para. 29.

[19] Case C-494/15, Tommy Hilfiger, para. 22. In this case, the Court of Justice recalled para. 127 of the L’Oréal v eBay judgment, reiterating it, and said that the matter was thus “settled case law”. Arguing that the limitations to the scope of the injunction set out by the CJEU in Tommy Hilfiger bind national judges also in granting injunctions to intermediaries in the online world, see M.Husovec, Injunctions Against Intermediaries in the European Union, Accountable but not Liable, Cambridge University Press, 2017, pages 120-121.

[20] C-314/12, UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH v Constantin Film Verleih GmbH and Wega Filmproduktionsgesellschaft mbH, EU:C:2014:192.

[21] Tommy Hilfiger, supra, para. 23: according to the Court, “for an economic operator to fall within the classification of ‘intermediary’ within the meaning of those provisions, it must be established that it provides a service capable of being used by one or more other persons in order to infringe one or more intellectual property rights, but it is not necessary that it maintain a specific relationship with that or those persons”.

[22]Directive 2001/29/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 May 2001 on the harmonization of certain aspects of copyright and related rights in the information society (hereinafter, “Copyright Directive” or “InfoSoc Directive”).

[23] The Commission recalls Recital 59 of the Copyright Directive, which states that without prejudice to any other sanctions and remedies available, rights-holders should have the possibility of applying for an injunction against an intermediary who carries a third party’s infringement of a protected work or other subject-matter in a network. Such possibility is concretely foreseen under Article 8(3) of the Directive.

[24] Accordingly, on the one hand, the involvement of such economic operators, which did not themselves engage in any infringing activity, in the process of IPR enforcement under the Enforcement Directive can be required to ensure that rights-holders are in a position to effectively enforce their rights. On the other hand, there may in a given case be no justification for such involvement where the services provided are so distant or immaterial to the (alleged) infringement that the economic operator in question cannot reasonably be expected to significantly contribute to such effective enforcement, meaning that its involvement would be disproportionate and unnecessarily burdensome.

[25] In the context of measures tackling infringements of IPRs, the principle of proportionality has been codified under Art. 3(2) of the Enforcement Directive.

[26] In that case at stake was a blocking injunction against UPC Telekabel, an internet service provider, taken on the basis of Article 8(3) of the InfoSoc Directive.

[27]C-314/12, UPC Telekabel Wien GmbH v Constantin Film Verleih GmbH and Wega Filmproduktionsgesellschaft mbH, EU:C:2014:192, paras. 52-57.

[28] C-314/12, UPC Telekabel, para. 52-57.

[29] Section IV(3) of the Enforcement Directive Guidance.

[30] C-484/14, Tobias Mc Fadden v Sony Music Entertainment Germany GmbH, EU:C:2016:689, para. 93-95; C-314/12 UPC Telekabel, para. 56 and paras. 58-62.

[31] Id.

[32] C-314/12, UPC Telekabel, para. 53.

[33] Directive 2000/31/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 8 June 2000 on certain legal aspects of information society services, in particular electronic commerce, in the Internal Market, OJ L 178, 17.7.2000, p. 1-16.

[34] The Commission recalls that in the abovementioned Scarlet and Sabam judgments the Court of Justice considered the measures at stake (broad injunctions ordered by a national judge) to be incompatible both with Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive and Article 3(2) of the Enforcement Directive, when read with in conjunction with the requirement to respect fundamental rights.

[35] The Commission considers that, in certain specific circumstances, dynamic injunctions, which are forward looking and allow for a targeting of URLs when the infringement reoccurs (namely, in the presence of a whac-a-mole effect) can be an effective way to ensure enforcement of IPRs without the plaintiff having to reapply for a separate injunction,.

[36] Namely, Article 15 of the E-Commerce Directive, Article 3of the Enforcement Directive, the case law of the CJEU and fundamental rights as enshrined in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union.

[37] Husovec, supra, note 14, page 106. Arguing that: “providing policy plug-ins by means of injunctions isn’t a good way forward”, see again Husovec, id, page 18.

[38] See Max Planck Institute for Competition and Innovation contribution  in response  to the questions raised by  the  authorities of  Belgium,  the Czech Republic, Finland, Hungary, Ireland and the Netherlands to the Council Legal Service regarding  Article  13  and  Recital  38  of the  Proposal  for  a  Directive  on Copyright in the Digital Single Market, available at: http://www.ip.mpg.de/fileadmin/ipmpg/content/stellungnahmen/Answers_Article_13_2017_Hilty_Moscon-rev-18_9.pdf. The proposed Copyright Directive is expected to be considered by the JURI committee of the European Parliament in the next few months.

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