Wednesday, 27 August 2014 22:55

Champagne, Roquefort, Eau Rouge?

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To most motorsport enthusiasts, Eau Rouge is evocative of speed, precision, and a certain intestinal fortitude required of those whose hobbies involve donning fire-proof suits. It is no wonder, then, that Infiniti would choose the moniker to adorn its latest sports concept, and furthermore, seek to register the term as a trademark.

To the uninitiated, the Eau Rouge is a stream in Belgium that sleepily winds its way through the Ardennes. It eventually meets the Circuit de Spa-Francorchamps for the first time near a left-hand corner that leads into a sweeping, uphill right-hander. Strictly speaking, Eau Rouge is the name of the left-hander at the bottom of the hill. Raidillon follows afterwards. Despite such pedantries, however, one goal amongst generations of drivers has persisted: take the section at full throttle. Of course the whole idea of motorsport is to go faster, but full throttle, during an undulating left-right combination is, in most circumstances, a bad idea. Upon seeing the Eau Rouge-Raidillon combination for the first time, one might choose to believe that this is nothing more than a pernicious rumor, started by slower drivers in an effort to thin out the boldest competition from the front of the pack. Indeed, Eau Rouge has claimed a few lives over the years. But nevertheless the idea permeates the motorsport community and such is the infamy of this corner. 

Nissan, Infiniti’s parent corporation, has sought to register the term “EAU ROUGE” in at least Japan and the United States. While attaining a registration would mean that Nissan could block confusingly similar trademark uses of the term, making descriptive use of such terms as touting an automobile’s racing pedigree is certainly nothing new in the auto industry. Another famous racetrack, The Nurburgring, has been the subject of several “Nurburgring Editions” -- models tuned or otherwise proven on the German loop.  Daytona, Sebring, and Trans Am spring to mind as well. The question remains whether another automaker that develops or tunes a vehicle at the Circuit de Spa, and particularly the Eau Rouge corner, could name its car “Eau Rouge Edition” in light of Nissan’s prospective registration, or would that automaker be relegated to burying the term within its marketing and advertising materials. By way of example, Bentley has certainly enjoyed a successful monopoly over the registered mark “MULSANNE,” named for the three-plus mile straight of the Circuit de La Sarthe. Admittedly, though, the Mulsanne straight is a public highway for 51 weeks of the year, so it may just be that no automaker has yet had opportunity to develop a car on the Mulsanne straight in order to make such descriptive use. 

Perhaps a fair solution to this unique issue would be to treat these terms as geographical indicators. Instead of allowing a single entity a monopoly over the mark, we allow a select few, who, in earnest, expend the time and effort to develop their vehicles on the various punishing courses of the world to carry the mark as a certification and testament to the car’s pedigree. Champagne, Roquefort, and Eau Rouge.

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W. John Eagan

Mr. Eagan earned his bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh University and his law degree, with honors from the University of Miami. While at the University of Miami he served as the Inter-American Citator and an Articles and Comments Editor for the Inter-American Law Review. Mr. Eagan is admitted to practice law in the State of Florida and concentrates his practice in Intellectual Property litigation.