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.
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