Today, the European Court of Justice (ECJ)
ruled against Dante Bigi in the "Parmesan cheese" case regarding his use
of a name protected by the Protected Designation of Origin ("PDO") for
The law at issue
Council Regulation (EC) No 2081/92 on the
Protection of Designations of Origin established a system for the
registration of PDOs, i.e. the name of a region or geographical area used
to describe a product from that area which possesses a special quality or
distinction attributable to the characteristics, both natural and human,
of that area.
Once registered, the PDO is protected against misleading use,
application and imitation.
The facts of the case
In 1996, the Italian Republic applied
for a Community PDO registration of "Parmigiano Reggiano" (translated as
"Parmesan") under the simplified registration procedure of Art 17 of the
Regulation for names already protected by national law or established by
use. Parmesan comes from the town of Parma and its environs, the qualities
of the cheese deriving from the characteristics of that specific area.
Dante Bigi had been producing in Italy a dried, powdered cheese made
from a mixture of several cheeses of different origin, none of which were
Parmigiano Reggiano according to the PDO registration, but sold under
labels clearly marked "Parmesan".
Importantly, the cheese was intended for export exclusively to Member
States other than Italy.
In 1999 consignments of the cheese were seized and criminal proceedings
brought against Bigi for fraudulently trading and selling cheese with
Bigi sought to argue a defence under the transitional exemption in Art
13(2) of the Regulation. This article allows Member States to continue
national systems permitting the marketing of products that do not comply
with PDOs, but for no more than five years. Bigi claimed that since his
cheese was intended for the markets of Member States in which the cheese
was lawful it was covered by the derogation.
The ECJ Decision
The principal question the ECJ was asked to
consider was whether the transitional exemption under Art 13(2) could be
applied to products which do not comply with a PDO and originate in the
Member State which obtained the registration of that PDO, but are then
exported exclusively to Member States where they are lawful according to
In its decision, the ECJ says that the derogation of Art 13(2) is there
to provide an adjustment period for producers who...