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The ruling of the German Supreme Court of 22nd September 1999 (Bundesgerichtshof, Docket Nr. I ZB19/97) – “Fünfer”

On the distinctiveness required for a trademark registration of an independent word formation based on a number (Fünfer (Fiver) for grape sugar and grape-sugar preparations)

Annotation: The German Supreme Court’s sided with the German Patent and Trademark Office’s refusal to register “Fünfer” (Fiver) due to the lack of distinctive character within the meaning of § 8 (2) (1) of the Trademark Act. The Federal Patent Court held that “Fünfer” being the noun of the number 5 is commonly used in numerous compositions, such as “Fünferpackung” (five pack) and “Fünferlei” (five different kinds). The Federal Patent Court did not entirely rule out the possibility that part of a target group would consider the designation “Fünfer” to be a fancy name rather than they would attach any descriptive meaning to it.

The German Supreme Court reversed the judgement of the Federal Patent Court and referred it back pointing out that the ground for refusal of protection within the meaning of § 8 (2)(2) – requirement of availability (Freihaltebedürfnis) – should be examined again. The judgement of the Federal Patent Court has been reversed on the grounds that the designation “Fünfer” is neither a statement descriptive of the goods nor a common language word constantly perceived as such. The German Supreme Court sided here with the findings of the Federal Patent Court that a part of the target group would consider the designation to be a fancy name (Fantasiebezeichnung).

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