The colour “Champagne”: all that glitters is not gold

If there is one word that’s worth gold, I would say it’s “Champagne”. “Champagne” refers to both the flagship French luxury product and the region where it’s produced. Obviously, its reputation reaches far beyond France. Sought after by both connoisseurs and profiteers, “Champagne” enjoys a level of protection commensurate with its power of attraction.


“Champagne” is actually an “appellation d'origine contrôlée” (a registered designation of origin). And as all treasures need guardians, The French Interindustry Champagne Committee (Comité Interprofessionnel du vin de Champagne - “CIVC”) has never hesitated to file litigation to defend it.


Many have sought to illicitly exploit the prestige of the “champagne” name. The applicable law states that "the geographical name that constitutes the registered designation of origin or any other reference evoking that designation may not be used for any similar product … or for any other product or service when such use is likely to subvert or weaken the brand recognition of the registered designation of origin" (Article L. 115-5 of the French Consumer Code). “(So) Champagne only comes from Champagne”, as the CIVC likes to put it.


That is why you will never wear “Champagne” perfume by Yves Saint Laurent, taste Delos and Cantreau’s “Champagne biscuits” or smoke SEITA’s “Champagne cigarettes”. But could you wear the colour “Champagne”?


The CIVC categorically states that this is impossible, since the colour “Champagne” does not exist – The shades of Champagne wine are too varied for this name to be used to designate a specific colour. However the Larousse dictionary, Wikipedia and Pantone seem to disagree, as they provide a definition and even a code for the colour “Champagne”.


It may seem quite harmless to say a product is “Champagne” in colour, especially as the French have long been accustomed to using another registered designation of origin, “Bordeaux”, to describe a shade of red. Many companies, particularly in the ready-to-wear sector, choose to use various shades of this “Champagne” colour.


Under Articles L. 115-5 of the French Consumer Code and L 643-2 of the French Rural and Commercial Fishing Code, "the registered designation of origin can never be considered as generic and falling into the public domain". Despite these provisions, there were rumours of the launch of a “Champagne” coloured iPhone with golden casing, which met with the CIVC’s immediate disapproval.


A company of Apple’s size cannot massively exploit the term “Champagne” without weakening the reputation of that term. And, based on the above (see Article L. 115-5 of the French Consumer Code), weakening the reputation of a registered designation of origin constitutes a prosecutable offence.


So, despite the lack of case law in this area, French courts are very likely to condemn the use of the term “Champagne” in the trade name of a product to designate the product’s colour.


In any case, use of the word “Champagne”, if only to designate a colour and even if it is not used in the product’s brand or name, is very likely to provoke a reaction from the CIVC.


To prevent long, expensive and risky litigation, we can only recommend using safer terms - such as gold, beige, golden, yellow, or sandy – to describe shades that are similar to the colour of Champagne.


Writer: Catherine LEVALET

  • Publication date: July 2014
  • IP ALERT : IP ALERT Trademarks, Designs and Models
  • Subject(s) : Trademarks
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