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Can smartphone app names infringe German trademark law?

The High Court of Justice in Berlin has handed down a ruling in which it discusses the possibility of smartphone app names infringing trademark. The case concerned the name “Stadt Land Fluss”.

Can smartphone app names infringe German trademark law? © ferkelraggae-Fotolia
Can smartphone app names infringe German trademark law? © ferkelraggae-Fotolia

Trademark infringement

The owner of the trademark “Stadt Land Fluss”, used to describe a board game, brought court action against the use of the name by an app available on the iTunes store.

The claimant sought an injunction to prevent the use of the term “Stadt, Land, Fluss-Multiplayer”.

The owner also sought determination that she was entitled to compensation as a result of the trademark infringement.

No trademark protection

The High Court of Justice in Berlin rejected the trademark owner’s claim (judgment from 01.11.2013, case ref. 5 U 68/13).

The court found that the app name “Stadt, Land, Fluss” was used to describe the content of the app. As such, there was no trademark-related use within the meaning of § 14 German Trademark Act. The court determined that the term was used to describe the classic game “Stadt, Land, Fluss” which can be played through an app, on computer or even using paper and pencil. The term therefore lacks distinguishing features.

App titles infringing trademark law

It is possible that an app title could infringe the trademark rights of others. If this is the case, it can quickly become expensive, as the owner of the trademark is entitled to serve warning letters in order to prevent the infringement from continuing. However, those use a name simply to describe a product will most likely not benefit from protection under German trademark law.