In a move that will be cheered by beauty companies struggling against counterfeiters, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled that brand owners seeking to discover the source of counterfeit products cannot be refused access to information ‘in an unlimited and unconditional manner’.
The case (Coty Germany GmbH v Stadtsparkasse Magdeburg) was bought by Coty, after it purchased a bottle of Davidoff Hot Water on an internet auction platform and paid the sum due into the seller’s bank account. Upon establishing the perfume was fake, Coty requested the name and address of the account holder under German trademark law, but the bank refused, citing banking secrecy laws.
The ECJ considered whether Article 8(3)(e) of the Intellectual Rights Enforcement Directive (2004/48/EC) must be interpreted as precluding a national provision allowing a bank to invoke secrecy laws unconditionally in order to refuse to provide information, and found in the affirmative.
However, as commentators point out, the decision does not give brand owners a right to information; it merely requires national laws to strike a fair balance between competing rights, such as data protection and intellectual property infringement.