Drinks advertising for products free from designation of origin systems can in principle compare their qualities to other drinks regulated under appellation rules, the European Court of Justice (ECJ) has ruled.

However, such advertising or labelling "must not take unfair advantage of the reputation of a trademark, trade name or other distinguishing marks of a competitor or of the designation of origin," judges said yesterday (23 April).

The court had been asked whether an EU directive on misleading advertising prevented comparisons of non-designation of origin products with controlled lines in all instances.

The ruling follows a case between Belgian brewer De Landtsheer Emmanuel, the Comité Interprofessionnel du Vin de Champagne and Veuve Clicquot Ponsardin. The Belgians had been promoting a beer made using 'méthode champenoise' techniques with Champagne terminology such as 'brut' and 'Reims-France'.

The ECJ concluded that such a tough interpretation "would be unwarranted and could not be justified".