From the monthly archives: November 2013

A couple of minutes ago I was called in by a KSNH paralegal to assist her in filing an application for a national German trade mark application utilising the new DPMAdirektWeb facility which is available to the public since November 12, 2013. She had just arrived at a step where the items of the list of goods and services are to be entered. To her surprise there was no visible option just to enter free text. The user appeared to be forced to select from a picklist drawn from a lager database of goods and services already known to the DPMA from earlier applications. And, it turned out that the specific item the client wanted to see within the list of goods and services was not available in the picklist offered by the new website.

I couldn’t believe that the new filing system is crippled that way and immediately called a DPMA hotline number indicated on the DPMAdirektWeb page. To my surprise the lady at the other end of the line confirmed that it is not possible to enter arbitrary text into the list of goods and services.

Well, is such action of the DPMA really within the bounds of applicable law?

As far as I know neither German Trade Mark Act nor Directive 2008/95/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 22 October 2008 do comprise any provision allowing Offices to hinder applicants to file trade mark applications covering goods and/or services which are new to the respective internal database of acceptable items.

It is just that Offices like to streamline their internal processes by preferring to deal with pre-approved lists of goods and/or services only.

The German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) is one of many administrative agencies of the Federal Republic of Germany. Its task is to implement the law, not to create new law.

I have not yet bothered to obtain an Official statement of the DPMA concerning this matter. But I would not be very much surprised if they argue that any applicant insisting on using an individually worded list of goods and services still may refer to a paper-based way of filing the application. However, doing so comes with EUR 10,– extra costs for Official application fees. And, yes, we patent attorneys usually can switch to the DPMAdirekt on-line filing facilities which have ownership of a smartcard as a prerequisite.

But I prefer to see this as a matter of principle: If the law allows to file individually worded lists of goods and services, every filing facility should support such kind of freedom.

I can see that DPMA might strongly feel encouraged by the bad example given by OHIM to proceed on a way of nudging applicants to follow paths where the interest of the respective administrative agency to have smooth, fast and cheap internal workflows is fostered at maximum at the expense of the applicant’s interest to have a trade mark perfectly tailored to its needs. However, OHIM at least allows free text in lists of goods and services – although the current as well as the future OHIM on-line web filing TM facility (operative from December 02, 2013 onwards) both have plenty of nag-screens warning the user when departing from the path of virtue which requires to stick to the internal database of pre-approved items.


Common Household Objects now falling under German Copyright

Back in 2004, Germany saw a fundamental reform of the German Act on Registered Designs (“Geschmacksmustergesetz”): Before, Gebrauchsmusterschutz was defined as sort of a small coin of Copyright (“Kleine Münze des Urheberrechtes”). In particular, the old Act on Registered Designs made use of the concept of level of originality (“Gestaltungshöhe”) which is a characteristic of German Copyright (Urheberrecht). Thereafter, the new Geschmacksmustergesetz (only recently renamed in German as Gesetz über den rechtlichen Schutz von Designs because of even many German native speakers did no longer understand what really was meant in this context with the German word “Geschmack” which normally would translate to “taste”.) was a fresh start from scratch undertaken to fulfil the requirements of the Directive 98/71/EC of the European Parliament and of the Council of 13 October 1998 on the legal protection of designs. Since this reform, German Geschmacksmusterrecht no longer was officially defined as small coin of Copyright. The the concept of level of originality disappeared from the law.

In the old times before the reform in 2004, creators of everyday’s works of so-called applied arts (“Angewandte Kunst”) were referred to the Gebrauchsmusterschutz whereas creators of purpose free arts (“Zweckfreie Kunst”) were in a position to gain protection by Copyright law more easily. In order to be eligible for Copyright protection, works of  applied arts needed to show some higher level of originality than works of purpose free arts. This meant that the designs of many common household objects etc. were effectively copyright-free unless the design was registered as Geschmacksmuster. This does not mean that object designs generally were excluded from Copyright; it was just harder to obtain protection. For example, the design of the famous cantilever chair created by Mies van der Rohe et al. in all its elegance was found to be protected by Copyright in 1932 by German Reichsgericht.

But on November 13, 2013, the German Federal Supreme Court (Bundesgerichtshof, BGH) has clarified in Decision I ZR 143/12 (Press Release [in German]) that after entering into force of the reformed Geschmacksmustergesetz based on Directive 98/71/EC in 2004 there is no longer any room for a differentiation between works of applied arts, on the one hand, and works of purpose free arts, on the other hand, when it comes to the consideration of the required level of originality required for being eligible to Copyright protection.

In practice this means that, related to Germany, discussion of design infringement even in cases with common household objects etc. must no longer stop after evaluating registered Designs (formerly known as Geschmacksmuster). From now on, it is clear that Copyright should be considered also in small-coin cases.

As there is no such thing like a Copyright Register, it is hard to search for earlier rights. Theoretically, the creator of some new common household article etc. might feel safe if he or she is sure that the design in question indeed is a creation of his or her own. But in court, when being confronted with some earlier work looking confusingly similar, it might be hard to defend that the new design isn’t simply some derivative work of the old one. The field of common household articles might turn out to be quite crowded in the field of lower levels of originality.

(Foto: (C) 2010 by Tim Bartel aka avatar-1 via Flickr and, on 2013-11-14, licensed under the terms of a Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0) license.)