Italy vs. Croatia
What’s in a name? With Croatia’s accession to the European Union as of 1 July 2013 the beloved Croatian wine called Prošek is not allowed to be marketed under the name ‘Prošek’ anymore. How come? The Italian wines marketed under the name ‘Prosecco’ enjoy the rights granted by the protection of Designation of Origin since 17 July 2009. Meanwhile, the Croatian Prošek wine, even though it has been produced since hundreds of years ago, enjoys no such protection or protection as a “geographical indication” protection, due to the failure of the Croatian national authorities to protect this name.
EC Regulation No. 1234/2007 (Single CMO Regulation) lays down the rules on the protection of “designation of origin” (DO) and “geographical indication” (GI) of wines marketed within the EU, independent whether they originate from an EU Member State or a third country. The DO or GI protection of wines originating from third countries (as Croatia was before joining the EU) is possible without going through the entire procedure set out in the Single CMO Regulation, provided that such protection is initially granted on national level (Article 118d). Croatian Prošek was not protected on national level and therefore could not obtain protection on EU level anymore.
No focus on protection of the names of local products
In order to convince the EU for its membership in the Union, Croatia had to solve several issues. Clearly, during that period there was no focus on protection of products, such as Prošek, on EU level. In fact, besides the Prošek wine, many other Croatian products (http://www.croatiaweek.com/no-croatian-products-with-european-protection/) lack protection on EU level. This might be the result of a weak IP protection policy, which maybe characterizes not only Croatia but also other western Balkan countries that aspire EU membership such as Albania, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo, Montenegro, Serbia and The Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. This case should serve as a lesson to those countries so that they ensure that their products are properly protected before their eventual entry into the EU. See also this article.
Back to the bottles
Coming back to the Processo and Prošek dispute, why is it forbidden to use the name Prošek for Croatian sweet wine since 1 July 2013? Italian Prosecco producers claimed that the name Prošek is too similar to their already protected name. The name Prošek might therefore confuse those consumers who intend to buy Prosecco but end up buying Prošek. Such claims were followed by the threats of the Italian Prosecco wine producers about complaining to the EU authorities in case the Croatian wine producers would continue to market their wines under the name Prošek.
One could argue that the first paragraph of article 118j of the Single CMO Regulation allows the registration of a name that is wholly or partially homonymous with that of a name already registered. However, this argument will not be successful as the local and traditional usage and the risk of confusion are decisive factors in determining a permissible registration. The traditional usage of the name Prošek and this wine`s qualities and differences when compared to Prosecco may be found here, here and here. Looking at the differences between the sweet Croatian Prošek and the sparkling Italian Prosecco, I couldn’t help but wonder how a consumer would confuse a bottle of Prošek with a bottle of Prosecco.
Conclusion: take up that challenge!
The Croatian authorities gave the impression that they gave up trying to protect the name Prošek, without fighting for it. The threat of being sued for marketing the Croatian wine under the name Prošek does not necessarily mean that the European court would decide in disfavor of Croatia. The Court of Justice has to decide whether or not the names Prosecco and Prošek may co-exist (as in the similar case with the Hungarian “Tokaj” and the Italian “Tocai” (See joined cases C-23/07 and C-24/07, ‘Confcooperative Friuli Venezia Giulia and Others’).
The author is grateful to Arber Gjunkshi, paralegal at Axon Lawyers, for his valuable contribution to this post.