Wednesday, 27 November 2013

Wir sind das Volk - No Distinctive Character

The Monday demonstrations (Montagdemonstrationen) in 1989 in Leipzig were the events paving the way to the German re-unification in October 1990. The most famous chant became Wir sind das Volk! ("We are the people!"), reminding the GDR leaders that a democratic republic has to be ruled by the people, not by an undemocratic party claiming to represent them.

According to an article in the Munich-based Süddeutsche Zeitung, the German Patent- and Trademark Office DPMA has now deleted a trademark containing the words "Wir sind das Volk" which had been registered by a rightist splinter party for the reason of lack of distinctiveness. The request of cancellation had been filed by the city of Leipzig represented by its mayor Burkhard Jung.

The decision is not available on the internet (at least as far as I know) such that we have to rely on the Süddeutsche Zeitung as to what concerns the more detailed reasons. Allegedly, the DPMA found that the lack of distinctiveness results from the inseparable connection with the jounger German history, the end of the GDR and the German reunification.

According to Burkhard Jung: "It is now clear that this decisive phrase belongs to those who have carried it out into the world: the people" and that it is further clarified "that rightist splinter groups cannot protect this sentence to make money out of it".

A look into the official register reveals that the trademark concerned must be No. 3020110368171. filed in July 2011. However, a further interesting result of the inspection of the register is that the former mayor of Leipzig Wolfgang Tiefensee had registered a trademark on "Wir sind das Volk" in 2002 together with Christian Führer, a priest of Nikolai Church in  Leipzig "in order to avoid abuse" (see here).

Apparently, avoiding abuse is not a proper use of the trademark such that the earlier trademark was deleted in 2011 on request by a third party (guess who?) due to non-use.

Friday, 15 November 2013

Copyright - No higher level of originality for applied arts

According to the former case-law in Germany, copyright protection of works of applied arts had been considered to be available only for works with a level of originality clearly above an average level of creativity. The reason was that an essentially similar protection by registered designs was available for works with a level of originality above an average level of creativity such that the additional and longer-lasting copyright protection appeared to be justified only if the level of creativity substantially exceeds the level required for design registration.

This case-law has now been overruled in the decision "Geburtstagszug" I ZR 143/12 . The Ist Senate argues that the above reasons are no longer tenable since the law on registered designs has been reformed in 2004. Since then, the close relationship between copyright protection and design protection does no longer exist and originally is no longer required at all for a registered design. It is sufficient if the design has a different overall impression.

As a consequence, it is no longer allowable to impose conditions on the copyright protection of works of applied arts other than those imposed on non-applied works of fine arts, literature or music.
Rather, it is sufficient to reach a level of creativity justifying that the relevant public may speak of an "artistic" achievement (künstlerische Leistung). The relevant public is defined as a public with reasonable susceptibility to arts being familiar contemplations of arts.

This decision is a little revolution in the design protection in Germany for product or furniture designers, architects or the fashion industry.

Monday, 4 November 2013

Standard of Due Care in Patent Prosecution Matters

The 10th Senate of the Bundespatentgericht, responsible i.a. for appeals against decisions to refuse a request for re-instatement of rights in patent prosecution matters has raised interesting questions on the standard of due diligence in our field.

In general civil law, the rule established by the case-law is that the exercise of due care by the responsible attorney requires that upon deleting a time limit for one procedural step, the attorney should also check that other inter-related time limits in the same file are correctly noted.

In an earlier decision (10 W[Pat] 5/05 “Dreidimensionale Daten”, headnote here), the Senate had argued that this rule can be transferred to cases of  re-instatement of rights in patent prosecution matters only in certain parts.

The rule applies in particular for time limits pertaining to legal remedies such as appeals, wherein a longer delay for filing the grounds of appeal is considered to be interrelated with the delay for filing a statement of appeal. Failure to check the correct notation of the delay for filing the grounds upon deleting the delay for filing the statement of appeal is generally considered incompatible with due diligence.

However, the 10th Senate of the Bundespantentgericht had found that this requirement cannot be extended to each and every delay in a patent application procedure, where the number of more or less independent delays is considerably higher than in a general civil procedure.

In the case “Dreidimensionale Daten”, both a translation of the documents as originally filed and a copy of the priority document had to be filed within the pertinent delays respectively. When filing the translation, the attorney had not remarked, that the deadline for filing the priority document had not been correctly noted, and the DPMA had rejected the request for re-instatement by arguing that the obstacle (failure to note the time limit) would have been remarked at this earlier stage if the responsible attorney had exercised all due care required by the circumstances.

The Bundespatentgericht did not follow this argument by pointing out that a causal relationship between the two limits does not exist, and that the number of delays to be monitored in patent application procedures is considerably higher than in general procedures for legal remedies.

In the recent decision 10 W (pat) 22/09, this question has come up again. The Senate points out that a limited duty (“eingeschränkte Pflicht”) exists to check a file with regard to the correctness of calculations done upon noting the delays according to his  instructions. The reason is that the high number of delays to be noted and monitored would lead to excessive requirements. According to the senate , the attorney should be exempted from activities in relation to the deadline-management and checking in the interest of his activities dedicated to the administration of justice (“im Interesse seiner der Rechtspflege gewidmeten Tätigkeit”).

The question which kind of specific indications ("Anhaltspunkte") are sufficient to trigger the duty to double-check the noted deadlines is still to be clarified. In the case at issue in 10 W (pat) 22/09, this threshold finds its organisational counterpart in the question which degree of irregularities in the normal process flow should give rise to a duty of office clerks to notify the responsible attorney.

As this point of law has not yet been clarified by the highest courts, a leave to appeal on this point of law was granted.

Wednesday, 25 September 2013

Is offering a protected work for sale a distribution to the public by sale or otherwise?

Marcel Breuer 1957

Article 4 par. 1 of the Copyright directive 2009/29 provides that "Member States shall provide for authors, in respect of the original of their works or of copies thereof, the exclusive right to authorize or prohibit any form of distribution to the public by sale or otherwise".

In an earlier referral (C-256/06 Peek & Cloppenburg/Cassina), the BGH had to decide on a case were counterfeits of Copyright protected armchairs legitimately bought in Italy by the German clothing business Peek & Cloppenburg had been offered for use to tired husbands accompanying their wives at Shopping Marathons.

The armchairs belonged to the shop fitting and were not for sale. While it is clear that selling a product protected by Copyright infringes the author's rights, the ECJ had decided in the matter C-256/06 Peek & Cloppenburg/Cassina that the words"or otherwise" should be interpreted narrowly in the sense "that the concept of distribution to the public, otherwise than through sale, .... , applies only where there is a transfer of the ownership of that object" (cf. margin number 41 of the decision) such that the mere offering of a counterfeit for use would fall under the scope of this provision.

However, the interpretation of the ECJ relying on the WIPO Copyright Treaty (‘CT’) and the WIPO Performances and Phonograms Treaty (‘PPT’) is to be construed in the sense that not only the actual transfer of ownership infringes the copyright but rather “acts entailing the transfer of ownership” (cf. margin numbers 34 and 35 of Peek & Cloppenburg/Cassina).

The demarcation between acts entailing the transfer of ownership and acts which do not is still somewhat fuzzy.

In the new referral “Marcel-Breuer-Möbel” (I ZR 91/11), the BGH asks whether mere offering for sale is to be considered a distribution to the public in the sense of Art. 4 par. 1 of the directive. In the affirmative case, it is further asked whether this applies to strictly contractual offers only or rather to promotional measures as well and whether the offer for sale has actually entailed a transfer of ownership or not.

The BGH holds that the answers should be positive and cites its previous case law in this regard. However, the answers in the case Peek & Cloppenburg/Cassina came as a surprise as well and overruled the German case law such that a new surprise is not excluded here.

Thursday, 4 July 2013

Burden of Proof for Non-Registered Community Design - BGH I ZR 23/12 "Bolerojäckchen"

The German BGH had to decide on an appeal in a point of law in an infringement matter relating to a non-registered community design (NRCD) protecting the "bolero jacket" shown on the right hand side.

Undisputed was the fact that the jacet was novel and had individual character. The plaintiff was the first one to make the design available to the public within the community by selling the jacket shown on the right-hand side.

However, the defendant argued that this does not prove that the plaintiff is the rightful owner of the NRCD.

According to Art. 14 (1) of the council regulation, the he right to the Community design shall vest in the designer or his successor in title. The plaintiff submitted the sketch shown on right hand side together with whitness statemens of employees who authored the sketch in order to prove that the plaintiff - a employer - was the rightful successor in title.

The BGH did not object to the finding of the court of 2nd instance tat essential features of the NRCD - in particular the circuferentially closed broad cuff running from the neck over the back and back to the back - could not be derived from the scetch.

Furhter, the court did not find any support in the council regulation for a legal presumption that the person having been the one to make the design available to the public is the rigtful owner. In the absence of such a legal presumption, the burden of proof is not reversed and remains with the plaintiff, who has to prove to be the rightful owner of the NRCD beyond any reasonable doubt.

The enforcement of NRCDs in Germany will become more complicated after this decision. In order not to loose the possibility to enforce their rights using NRCDs, enterprises should keep a complete documentation of the creation process of products put to the market.

Thursday, 7 February 2013

How to Avoid Confusion in Keyword Advertising

This is not an advertisement for trademarks showing up on your screen
Google's Keyword Advertising service offers displaying advertisements in little boxes on the right-hand side of the search results if the search includes particular keywords while the keyword is still visible as typed in Google's search field. If the advertisements contain informations on goods and services available on clicking thereon and the keyword is a registered trademark, the trademark will be displayed togehter with the goods and services on the same screen. Captious trademark attorneys might argue that in the case the combined display on  the same screen consititutes an unallowed use of the trademark. In the decision "Bananabay II", the BGH had decided that this use did not constitute an identical use of the trademark (Art. 5(1)(a) of the trademark directive  89/104/EEC) as long as the advertisement itself is clearly separated from the search results, marked as advertisement and does not contain the the registered trademark or any hints to the products of the trademark owner but rather a link hinting towards a different commercial origin of the products or services.

The question whether or not this use might ocnstitute an infringement of (Art. 5(1)(b) of the trademark directive  89/104/EEC) in that a likelihood of confusion on a part of the public, which includes the likelihood of association between the sign and the trade mark is created, was still open.

In the decision MOST-Pralinen answered this question to the negative. Under the conditions develpoend in "Bananabay II" (advertisement in a separate box, advertisement itself does not contain the trademark), neither a likelihood of confution nor a likelikood of association exists.
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