EU Court Says Bulgaria Can Make Knock-off Cypriot Halloumi Cheese

Αssociated Press

In this photo taken Wednesday Dec. 11, 2019, Cyprus' halloumi cheeses are seen after salting at a farm in Kampia village near Nicosia, Cyprus. (AP Photo/Petros Karadjias)

NICOSIA -- In a blow to Cyprus’ treasured and allegedly trademark protected halloumi cheese - white cheese that doesn’t melt when fried - the European Court of Justice (ECJ) said Bulgarian companies can make a faux product called BBQloumi.

The association of Cypriot producers who own the EU collective trademark Halloumi went to the ECJ to argue against a decision by the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) which ruled in favor of the Bulgarian company M.J. Dairies EOOD, which makes a cheese-like product and non-dairy meat extracts.

The Cypriot producers said the phrase “loumi,” would be confusing to customers and trick them into thinking they were buying an original product instead of an inferior quality copy.

But the ECJ dsaid EUIPO was correct in granting the registration as “there is no likelihood of confusion for the relevant public” between the collective mark ‘halloumi’, reserved for the members of a Cypriot association, and the sign ‘BBQloumi’ reported EURACTIV.

For whatever reason, the court said consumers likely wouldn’t even notice the phrase “loumi,” on the package and even if so wouldn’t think it was the genuine article from Cyprus despite the confusing similar wording.

A European Commission spokesperson told the site the decision had been noted in light of the EU in November, 2020 having reform intellectual property trademarks designed to protect countries of origin.

The EU trademark offers a lower level of protection to halloumi compared to the quality scheme of protected designation of origin (PDO) designed to insure consumers don’t get snookered by cheap knock-off products,

In July 2014, Cyprus applied to secure the PDO status for halloumi cheese, but the process has been stalled since over political wrangling, the site said, leaving Cypriot producers on their own in trying to protect a national commodity loved elsewhere.

A court in the United Kingdom recently allowed a British company owned by a Greek-Cypriot commercial license to use the “halloumi” brand in the UK and third-party countries.

In August, the Cypriot national parliament voted down the Canada-EU FTA by 37 votes to 18 because the treaty would not adequately protect the halloumi cheese, putting the approval of the free trade agreement with Canada at risk, the site said in its report.