No room for two "Villers" beers, according to Brussels Court of Appeal

The Brussels’ Court of Appeal holds that the beer names “Abbaye de Villers V” and “Abbaye de Villers IX” infringe the Villers trademarks of Huyghe and orders a recall.

Brewery Huyghe, brewer of the pink elephant “Delirium” beer, prevails in a trademark battle for the name “Villers”.

For a long time, Huyghe has been brewing “Triple Villers” and “Vieille Villers”. Huyghe also owns the corresponding trademarks. In 2015, the company Abbaye de Villers-la-Ville ASBL started selling the self-declared abbey beers “Abbaye de Villers V” and “Abbaye de Villers IX”. By judgment of 26 April 2018, the Brussels’ Court of Appeal holds that these beer names infringe the Villers trademarks of Huyghe and orders a recall.

A particularly interesting aspect of the judgment is the attention the Brussels’ Court of Appeal pays to the definition of the relevant public in relation to beers. The Court qualifies all beers, either pilsner beers, specialty beers or abbey beers, as common consumer goods intended for the general public. The public is deemed to be composed of the average beer consumer, who is reasonably well-informed and has a normal level of attention. Although this beer consumer is aware of the fact that beer labels often are composed of complex word and device elements, they pay no particular attention to such elements. Moreover, beers are i.a. sold in restaurants and bars, where the consumer is not distracted by figurative elements at the time of purchase. The consumer chooses a beer on the basis of the plain beer name mentioned on the menu. As a result, phonetic similarity is highly important. Overall, the Court finds that the names Villers, Villers V, Villers IX, Villers Authentique, Triple Villers, Abbaye de Villers, Abbaye de Villers V, Abbaye de Villers IX, Abbaye de Villers Authentique and Abbaye de Villers Triple are confusingly similar to the trademarks of Huyghe.

The Brussels’ Court of Appeal further rejects the nullity action based on the geographical and misleading character of Huyghe’s Villers trademarks, which was filed by way of a counterclaim. The Court considers that none of the Villers trademarks exclusively refer to the geographical location of Villers-la-Ville. The marks also consist of other word and device elements, such as the word “Tripel” and the blazon. Moreover, there is no reason to believe that the relevant public would associate the Villers trademarks with Villers-la-Ville, which is not particularly renowned for its beer production, nor to its abbey, nor that they would think that these beers are actually brewed there. The fact that there are various cities in Belgium with Villers in their name (e.g. Villers-sur-Lesse) implies all the more that “Villers” might as well refer to a fantasy name or a patronym.

CAPE IP acted as counsel for Huyghe and is very pleased with this decision, which is in principle still open for appeal to the Belgian Supreme Court.