On 22 April 2015, the Court of Commerce in Belgrade, Serbia, rendered a judgment in a trademark infringement dispute between the plaintiff Bacardi & Company Limited, the owner of famous brands of alcoholic drinks BACARDI, BACARDI BREEZER, MARTINI, DEWAR’S, OAKHEART, GREY GOOSE, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE and ERISTOFF, and the defendants Videx d.o.o. and Videx Group Distribution d.o.o., Serbian companies who were distributing branded goods without Bacardi’s authorization. Bacardi was repesented by MSA IP partner Vuk Sekulic.
This was the first decision of a court in Serbia concerning parallel imports after the Serbian parliament adopted, on 30 January 2013, amendments to the Law on Trademarks of 2009 and introduced, for the first time, a ban of parallel imports. Instead of the regime of international exhaustion for trademarks, Serbia has then adopted the regime of national exhaustion. During the parliamentary discussion about the proposed amendments to the Law on Trademarks, the then Serbian Minister of Science and Education Žarko Obradović stated as follows: “Instead of the principle of international exhaustion of rights which is adopted in the current version of the Law, the changes in the Law introduce the principle of national exhaustion of rights under which the so-called “parallel imports” are not allowed. The exhaustion is limited to situations where the rights-holder first puts goods into circulation within the territory of the Republic of Serbia, and not outside of its borders. This provides better legal protection of rights-holders and control over sales of trademarked goods. The ban of parallel imports prevents unfair competition which exists where parallel imports are allowed. The principle of national exhaustion of rights is compatible with the system which exists in the EU.” Therefore, the new regime provides for a stricter control by rights-owners of their branded goods as they can now take trademark infringement action not only against counterfeit goods, but also against gray market goods.
The Court ruled in favor of Bacardi and established that the defendants had infringed Bacardi’s trademarks by importing, distributing and advertising, without authorization from Bacardi, the BACARDI, BACARDI BREEZER, MARTINI, DEWAR’S, OAKHEART, GREY GOOSE, BOMBAY SAPPHIRE and ERISTOFF products after 7 February 2013 (this was the day when the new Law on Trademarks which prohibited parallel imports came into force). The defendants were forbidden to import and distribute these products without authorization from Bacardi. They were also ordered to withdraw from the market, within 8 days as from the day when the judgment becomes final, all such products that they imported and placed into circulation after 7 February 2013 and to subsequently destroy them. Finally, they were ordered to publish the judgment in daily newspapers “Politika” and “Blic” and to pay Bacardi’s legal fees and expenses. The defendant’s didn’t file an appeal against the judgment.
The regime of national exhaustion of trademarks, under which parallel imports of branded goods are not allowed, has already been introduced in a number of countries in the region, namely in Montenegro (Article 15 of the Law on Trademarks of Montenegro), Croatia (Article 11 of the Law on Trademarks of Croatia), Macedonia (Article 209 of the Law on Industrial Property of Macedonia), Kosovo/UNSCR 1244 (Article 12 of the Law on Trademarks of Kosovo), Slovenia (Article 50 of the Law on Industrial Property of Slovenia) and Albania (Article 158 of the Law on Industrial Property of Albania).