A recent decision by the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has taken on particular relevance in the context of intellectual property, introducing a significant precedent in the automotive sector. The controversy originates from the action of the German car manufacturer Audi, which sued a Polish dealer who had marketed radiator grills adapted for Audi car models from the 1980s and 1990s. 

 The heart of the matter lies in the shape engraved on these grilles, clearly reproducing the characteristic arrangement of the intertwined rings of the trademark registered by Audi. Furthermore, the peculiarity of these grilles lay in having been specifically designed to house the distinctive Audi emblem. 

The CJEU was therefore asked to rule on the legitimacy of using an element designed in a similar or identical way to the registered trademark, and on the possible implications for the trade in unofficial automotive parts. 

In his defense, the Polish dealer put forward the “repair clause” argument, arguing that the reproduction of spare parts should be legitimate if aimed at repairing a complex product. However, the CJEU rejected this argument, establishing that the repair clause, provided by the Community design law, does not apply in the specific context of automotive components. 

In fact, the Court highlighted that the grilles in question, not produced or authorized directly by the manufacturer, contained an element specially designed for attaching the Audi emblem. This detail, made visible to the public since the promotion of the spare part, constitutes a “material link” with the brand, compromising the functions of guaranteeing the origin and quality of the product. 

   The CJEU has therefore established that the use of an element with a similar or identical shape to a registered trademark, even if in the context of repairs and spare parts, constitutes a “use of a sign in the course of business” that may harm the function of the brand itself. 

 The decision opens the door to a reflection on the world of production and marketing of spare parts: the obligation to avoid the use of elements similar or identical to registered trademarks could push spare parts producers to create components without distinctive characteristics, making them however less attractive to consumers wishing to maintain visual authenticity. Added to this is a further issue: if spare parts manufacturers can only supply parts without distinctive signs, there is a risk of triggering restrictive practices in the market.