Squire Patton Boggs has successfully advised Balema GmbH in proceedings before the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and has supported the company through all court instances in these proceedings. In its judgment today, the ECJ ruled that the term “Balsamico” is not protected as a designation of origin and geographical indication and, therefore, did not follow the opinion of the applicant Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena.
Balema GmbH (which stands for Badische Lebensmittel Manufaktur), from Kehl in the German state of Baden-Württemberg, produces handcrafted, high-quality natural vinegar products made exclusively from fresh raw ingredients, which are produced by farmers and winegrowers in Germany. The company founder Theo F. Berl has a patented process for producing vinegar resulting in a special balsamic vinegar, such as the “Balsamico 1868,” which ages from German wine in oak barrels.
The Consorzio Tutela Aceto Balsamico di Modena, based in Modena, Italy, consists of more than 50 member companies, whose objective is to protect and sell balsamic vinegar nationally and internationally. The association is officially recognized by the Italian Ministry for Agriculture, Food and Forestry for the protection of specialty foods.
The key question of the legal dispute that began in 2015 is whether the protection afforded by the registration of the entire name “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” also extends to the use of individual non-geographical components of that name, namely the terms “Aceto,” “Balsamico” and “Aceto Balsamico,” and whether the exception under Art. 13(1) subparagraph 2 of Regulation (EU) No. 1151/2012 on quality schemes for agricultural products and foodstuffs (basic Regulation) applies, specifically whether the term “Balsamico” can be considered a generic term in the present case and, therefore, a breach has not been committed.
The Squire Patton Boggs team advising Balema was led by partner Dr. Christofer Eggers and associate Dr. Christian Böhler in Frankfurt and had been supported before the German Federal Court of Justice by Dr. Brunhilde Ackermann, Federal Court of Justice Lawyer, Karlsruhe.
This case also attracted international interest from the governments of Germany, Greece and France, which all hold the view that the terms “Aceto,” “Aceto Balsamico” and “Balsamico” are generic terms or non-geographical names and only “Aceto Balsamico di Modena” as a whole should be protected. In July, the Advocate General also agreed with the arguments of Dr. Christofer Eggers in his final opinion.
Commenting on the ECJ decision, Dr. Eggers said: “I am very happy that the ECJ has agreed with our view and that we have been able to achieve ultimate success for our client after years of legal proceedings. In addition, we are happy that this ruling finally ensures that Balsamico can legally come from Germany.”