Italy Vows To Bring Entire Government To Bear To Oppose Croatian 'Prosek' Trademark

from the whining-about-wine dept

We’ve written a couple of times about the Consorzio di Tutela della Denominazione di Origine Controllata Prosecco, whom I have nicknamed “The Prosecco People” because I’m not typing that every time. This organization with the sole goal of protecting the “Prosecco” name from being used, or nearly used, by anyone else has taken this mission to extreme lengths historically. Serving as examples were such times as The Prosecco People opposing a French company’s non-alcoholic sparkling wine brand dubbed “Nosecco“, as well as bullying a pet treat company that created a drink for pets called “Pawsecco“. In both cases, if you can find any real reason to worry about public confusion as to the source of those goods, you’re a crazy person.

But those examples were parodies and puns that at least nodded at the Prosecco product. The latest bullying attempt to protect the Prosecco brand comes from Italian government ministers and targets the EU’s consideration for protected status of a Croatian sweet wine called “Prosek.”

Italy said on Wednesday it would protest to the European Commission over an attempt by Croatia to get EU-protected label status for a sweet white wine which Rome says has a name that is too similar to its own famed prosecco. Brussels agreed on Tuesday to consider an application by Croatia to have its Prosek wine classified as a recognised protected label (PDO), outraging Italian producers who said the name would create confusion among consumers.

Agriculture Minister Stefano Patuanelli told state broadcaster RAI the whole Italian government would oppose the application “in an adequate and compact way”.

The whole Italian government? Dang, I guess Italy is simply not fucking around on this one. Which is a bit silly, actually, as Prosek has nothing to do with Prosecco. While the EU originally did refuse to register the name of Prosek for protected status back in 2013, the fact is that Prosek has been around for literally thousands of years, isn’t a sparkling wine, doesn’t use the same grapes for production, and there is not a single ounce of shared history when it comes to the origin of each’s name. In other words, Prosek is a thing in the world, whether Italy wants it to be or not. In addition, it’s worth noting that Prosek is made with red grapes, so even the coloration of the drinks are different.

But, despite all of that, apparently the Prosecco folks in Italy have absolutely lost their minds over this.

Luca Zaia, governor of the northerly Veneto region, which is a major prosecco producer, called Croatia’s application “an absolute disgrace” and demanded vigorous opposition from Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government.

“They are stealing an important label from our country, it’s as if they wanted to take away Ferrari,” he said.

Yeah, not really. There is no stealing here at all. There is only Croatia seeking to get protected status on an age-old wine it has made for a long, long time. In remarks, the EU commission indicated that just because the two types of wine have some similarity in sound, that doesn’t mean Prosek can’t receive protected status. For that to be denied, there would need to be reasonable concern about customer confusion.

But, as you can see above, very little about Italy’s stance on this is reasonable. Nor has been its past bullying over Prosecco.

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Comments on “Italy Vows To Bring Entire Government To Bear To Oppose Croatian 'Prosek' Trademark”

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Ehud Gavron (profile) says:

Appelation fascination

They can tilt at windmills all they want.
Shampagne includes CSW.
Kleenex includes what Kimberly Clark Makes
Xerox is what I do with my Brother MFC to paperwork.
Spam is the email I get all day offering me drugs or pimp jobs.

Intellectual Property has never been about anything other than
a shakedown.

Hopefully Prosek will prevail. Hopefully in time IP maximalists
(Marvel comes to mind today, but genrally Dsney, Nintendo, etc.
are the culprits) will lose.

TD is big on calling for a US Federal anti-SLAPP suit. I’m beginning
to think we need the same quick method to dispose of alleged and
yet non-IP-infringing suits/claims.

bhull242 (profile) says:


And, once again, people fail to understand what trademark actually does. People won’t stop calling it “Prosek” if the trademark gets rejected. They were already calling it that, which is why they’re applying for a trademark. They’re trying to keep others from calling their products “Prosek”. That’s it. It’s just like with Schlaffly Beer.

So if the Italian government is trying to prevent people from calling non-Italian beverages “Prosek”, this won’t help.

Anonymous Coward says:

Ip is used by most creators , or would you like it if if just downloaded anyones podcasts or YouTube twitch videos and then sold ads inserted in the videos or audio casts. Ip means you can control who gets to use your content or monetise it, and you can get paid for it
It not just used by sony Disney and other mega corporations.
I can use a car to Rob a bank or to go to church. Just cos some company’s use ip copyright laws or trademarks to do bad things does not mean all Ip is bad.

DB (profile) says:

The famed efficiency and unified action of the Italian government?

All of them working towards the same goal?

A work friend used to talk about his time doing mandatory service in the Italian Army. From his telling, the only ones diligently active were involved in graft and theft. The rest just tried to lay low. Compulsory service didn’t lead to increased patriotism, rather an education that influence and money mattered more than laws and hierarchy. The result is that there is zero likelihood that the government would all line up behind an arbitrary rule, there would need to be something in it for them.

Anonymous Coward says:

How long will it be before The Prosecco People go after the makers of Prozac?

Since "secco" literally means "dry", with "prosecco" translating as "dry advantage" they’re skating awfully close to enforcing a trade mark on a common term. The word is as much an adjective as a brand.

That said, Champagne is an area in France. And if someone started making a white bubbly wine called Champain, we’d have France launching the same type of legal attack.

Back to "prosek" — coming from a different linguistic heritage, the term literally means "average" in Croatian. So Italy is up in arms about someone’s "average" wine being similar to their "dry advantage" wine.

Not a good look for Italy 😉

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Technobabylon says:

many things you are omitting

Why do italians want to defend Prosecco. Once upon a time there was an italian wine called Tocai. Then the Hungarians registered Tokaji name, and Tocai had to change name. No more Tocai in Italy. Friulano nowadays. But if you order Tocai in those places, they still give you the Italian one. Then there is the cheese, Parmigiano Reggiano. High quality. We have lower quality brands, with different names, so at supermarket, one can choose. Abroad: "parmesan". It’s shit disguised as cheese, but consumers believe to buy Parmigiano, because of the name. About Prosecco, was imitated with Meer-secco, Kressecco, Semisecco, Consecco, Perisecco, Whitesecco, Crisecco. And I’m missing something for sure. Competitors could just choose a different name, which is the best choice if they make a better wine. But they don’t. So they just try get customers with the name trick. So Prosecco people are not bullying anyone. They are defending their rights, and customers’ rights at the same time.

Technobabylon says:

Re: Re: many things you are omitting

Looks like you’ve just red last row of my message. Registration of another brand, completely unrelated like this one, already forced the shutdown of an italian wine brand, for good. You talk about ‘crony’ politicians. That’s not the case. Minister is opposing and he’s 47 years old. The whole country is very attentive on this dispute. We are aware of being judged abroad with stereotypes, as a stupid population to be exploited and then blamed at the same time. By a bunch of racist politicians from other countries that use ignorance and prejudice for their purposes.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: many things you are omitting

We are aware of being judged abroad with stereotypes, as a stupid population to be exploited and then blamed at the same time. By a bunch of racist politicians from other countries that use ignorance and prejudice for their purposes.

This has nothing to do with racism or stereotypes. We’re of the opinion that abuse of trademarks—like the one you mentioned about Tokaji and Tokai—and dumb oppositions to trademarks—like the one mentioned in the article—are both problems. Which country or nationality is involved is irrelevant.

bhull242 (profile) says:

Re: many things you are omitting

First off, thanks for the history lesson. I—and probably Techdirt—would likely agree that Hungary was wrong in canceling the Tocai. Tokaji is not confusingly similar to Tocai, and Tocai clearly had been in use for a long time. That is a clear example of trademark abuse, and it is perfectly understandable that Italy would wish to avoid a repeat of that. Additionally, no one here is saying that Italy shouldn’t oppose trademarks that are genuinely confusingly similar to Prosecco.

A couple things though.

First, I know nothing about cheese and don’t have a great palate or anything like that, but I’ve never bought or used parmesan thinking it was parmigiana. To be honest, I rarely use parmigiana at all for the simple reason that my palate isn’t refined enough to care about the differences between a number of cheeses. I just like parmesan because I think it’s fine. If anything, I’ve assumed that parmigiana is just a superior version of parmesan—basically that parmigiana is authentic Italian and parmesan is not—but it’s not something I get confused about. (Though, to be perfectly candid, parmesan, parmigiana, mozzarella, ricotta, cheddar, and American are the only cheeses I like, and only in specific dishes: parmesan, parmigiana, and melted mozzarella on pizza and pastas; ricotta in lasagna; cheddar in tacos (and maybe cheese quesadillas, but tbh I don’t know what cheese gets used in those); and American in grilled cheese. I’m not a huge fan of cheese outside of those particular dishes, so my opinions on cheese flavors and quality should be taken with a grain of salt. The main point, though, is that I never bought or used parmesan thinking it was the supposedly high-quality parmigiana.)

As far as the Prosecco "ripoffs" are concerned, I’m no wine expert, and I’m not exactly someone who buys wine, like, ever, but I think you may be blowing things out of proportion there.

First of all, I would argue that the wines you mentioned are clearly intended to be distinct from Prosecco even if they are imitations. Semisecco, Meer-secco, and Perisecco, for example, use prefixes to make clear that that they are—at best—subpar imitations of Prosecco. And none of these names look or sound anything like the full name “Prosecco”. I doubt anyone who is actually looking for Prosecco will see any of these wines will buy them thinking that they’re Prosecco, nor do I believe that the name “Prosecco” is likely to be sued over based upon trademarks of any of these names like what happened with Tokaji and Tocai (which are at least spelled similarly—two letters different, with one of the changed letters still making the same sound—and were named completely independently of each other). These may be imitations, to be sure, but the names seem to make it pretty clear that they are imitations (or are unrelated to Prosecco) and not the real deal.

Additionally, looking into the etymology, “secco” is apparently an Italian word that literally means “dry”, which is itself a commonly used adjective to describe the flavor of various wines, much like “sour” or “sweet”. So, arguably, it’s possible that some of those wines use “secco” in the name not to reference Prosecco but simply to refer to the dry flavor of the wine. If so, it’s a descriptive use, not a use to capitalize on the name “Prosecco” like you claim.

Even ignoring that, though, let’s look at the objections specifically mentioned in the article. After all, Techdirt doesn’t say that any opposition to trademarks because of Prosecco are necessarily silly; it’s more discriminatory than that. So, of the three mentioned in the article, two use “-secco” (Nosecco and Pawsecco) and one uses “Pro-” (Prosek).

With Pawsecco, it is clearly meant for pets’ consumption. Like, it’s right there in the name. If anyone buys Pawsecco thinking it’s Prosecco, there is something seriously wrong with them. Frankly, anyone who buys Pawsecco for human consumption and/or Prosecco for pet consumption is an idiot, too. The reference to Prosecco is clearly tongue-in-cheek, intended to make it sound wine-like by invoking names of actual wines. It’s like (and I’m just making this up off of the top of my head) “Mewscatto”; only a moron in a hurry would get confused by the name. It’s also unlikely that the makers of Pawsecco would sue over use of the word “Prosecco”.

With Nosecco, the name at least rhymes, but more important is that it starts with the word “no”, which I’m pretty sure would make people who see the word interpret it as meaning something like “not Prosecco”. It’s not even alcoholic; it’s a sparkling non-alcoholic “wine”. Again, I don’t see how people could get the two confused. Are there non-alcoholic Proseccos? And, again, given the use, I highly doubt they’d go after Prosecco.

Then there is the main subject of the article, Prosek. Unlike the other two in the article or the ones you mentioned, it doesn’t contain “secco” at all, nor could it possibly be interpreted as an attempt to rip off or capitalize on the fame of Prosecco. Indeed, it’s clear that the name and the wine were both developed completely independently from Prosecco. The two even have unrelated meanings: in Italian, “pro” roughly means “advantage” while “secco” means “dry”, but in Croatian, “prosek” literally means “average”. As such, renaming it doesn’t make any sense. As for customer confusion, I don’t think the names are that similar; I’d assume that any wine-buyer who is familiar with Prosecco and/or Prosek and is looking for either will get the two confused. Anyone who does get confused when buying wine probably isn’t familiar with different kinds of wine anyways or is so drunk they probably shouldn’t get any more wine.

Now, I would be willing to acknowledge the possibility of a repeat of the “Tokaji-Tocai” thing, but there are still a couple of problems. For one thing, according to the article, that’s not what is being complained about. No one mentions fear of Prosecco being removed from the lexicon or anything like that. It’s all about fear of customer confusion, and I simply don’t believe such fears are justified here. Second, I think there may be another option here: apply for “Prosecco” to be similarly protected. That should help ensure that what happened to Tocai won’t happen to Prosecco even if the application for Prosek gets approved. I just don’t think opposition to the application is the best strategy here.

Finally, a word on the last statement:

They are defending their rights, and customers’ rights at the same time.

When a protected mark is being protected properly, that’s what should be the case: trademark’s primary purpose is to protect customers (which is very different from other IP rights, which are more meant to promote innovation and creativity by rewarding creators and inventors). It’s basically to prevent customers from being tricked into buying a knock-off, imitation, or counterfeit while thinking it’s the real deal. It’s also to help consumers identify the source, so that way a given company’s reputation doesn’t get spoiled by knock-offs or counterfeits, and consumers who prefer a specific maker or seller don’t get tricked into buying from someone else without knowing it. Again, the purpose is to protect consumers.

However, when someone goes overboard in either enforcing or contesting a trademark where no actual confusion is likely, that’s not protecting customer’s rights anymore. The Prosecco Group may have properly protected Prosecco before, but in these specific three instances, I believe they are seeing (or pretending to see) confusion where none exists, and so they are not acting as someone actually defending customers’ rights or their rights but rather a bully.

Jeroen Hellingman (profile) says:

Re: Re: many things you are omitting

This is not about trademarks, this is about the EU’s bastard child of trademarks, the protected designation of origin scheme, which hijacks generally accepted generic names for products, and gives a monopoly to a certain region to produce those products under those names, causing head-ache for producers of similar products outside that region, which now have to invent some new name for the product (example, feta cheese, which an now only be produced in Greece under that name). There is nothing about quality control in the regulations, only about location. Producer outside the privileged location are not only forbidden to name the product as such, but often also prevented from mentioning the name at all (e.g. saying it is an alternative for feta). I normally try to avoid such products, because the scheme makes them more expensive.

I wouldn’t object against requiring actual geographic indications on products to be truthful (and not misleading), but this is just about monopolizing common, well-established names for products that can produced everywhere.

DB (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: many things you are omitting

Appellation d’origine contrôlée and the like is a distortion of historical usage.

It used to be a point of regional pride to have a category of food or design named after you. It wasn’t a description of where the food was produced, it was an acknowledgement of where the style was originated. You were only "stealing" it if you changed the name.

I don’t expect that my Hawaiian pizza was flown in hot from Hawaii. Why should my swiss cheese have to come from Switzerland?

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