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No copyright protection for the taste of cheese

Chris JHolland19 December 2018

The Court of Justice of the EU was recently asked to rule on whether the taste of a food could be a “work” in terms of the EU Directive on copyright in the information society (Directive 2001/29/EC). If a taste could be a work then it could in principle be protected by copyright. The context was a case  for infringement brought by Levola Hengelo BV, manufacturer of a cheese called Heksenkaas against a rival food company, Smilde Foods BV, manufacturers of Witte Wievenkaas (C310/17).

As reported by the Kluwer copyright blog,the court ruled that taste of a cheese could not be regarded as a “work” for copyright purposes because it was a requirement that the subject matter of a “work” must be represented in a manner that makes it identifiable with sufficient precision and objectivity and the taste of Heksenkaas did not meet those criteria. So is that a case of hard cheese for Heksenkaas?

Can the taste of a cheese be protected by copyright?

Chris JHolland6 August 2018

The World awaits the outcome of the deliberations of the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) on this very question. Can the taste of Heks’nkaas be protected by copyright? Advocate General Wathelet’s opinion in the Levola Hengelo (C310/17) case was recently reported here on the IPKAT blog. The text of his opinion is not yet available but the AG’s answer is clearly “no.”
You might think that the answer is obvious, but to get to his conclusion the AG examines some of the fundamentals of EU copyright law, such as:
What are the limits of what qualifies as a “work” in the Infosoc Directive (2001/29)?
Is there a “fixation” requirement to qualify for copyright protection in EU law (as there is in UK law)?
The Court of Justice will eventually make a ruling which may or may not concur with the AG’s opinion. Will the Court confirm AG Wathelet’s standing as the “big cheese” of copyright law? We will have to wait and see!