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Tuesday, 18 January 2011

Neuschwanstein Castle trade mark dispute

Germany is a country of many castles (see recent IPKat posts here and here) and one of the most famous of these castles is Neuschwanstein Castle (literally: new swan stone, depicted top left). Neuschwanstein was one several castles which were commissioned by King Ludwig II of Bavaria (also known as "der Märchenkönig" (fairy tale king) or the "Swan King"). Ludwig was slightly eccentric, shall we say, and neo-gothic Neuschwanstein was planned to be his retreat being elegantly situated on a hill near the city of Füssen in Bavaria. More than 1.3 million people visit the castle annually, it has been featured in films and famously inspired Disney's Sleeping Beauty Castle (top right). In short: while perhaps not to every one's taste Neuschwanstein Castle is hot property and it is now also - according to a recent report on the Bavarian website Mercur Online - in the centre of a trade mark dispute between the Bavarian Castle Department (bayerische Schlösserverwaltung) and the German federal association Bundesverband Souvenir Geschenke Ehrenpreise e.V. (BSGE) which describes itself as "a network of producers, wholesalers, exporters, retailers and trade representatives from the souvenir, sports clubs, trophy and festive items (industry)".

The Bavarian Castle Department is part of the Bavarian state government and one of its tasks appears to be to regulate the souvenir trade connected to the castle and its surrounding area. The Bavarian Castle Department registered a trade mark for the word mark "Neuschwanstein" at the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) in 2005 covering a very broad range of merchandise goods and services including restaurant and hospitality services, hotel and catering as well as items such as t-shirt, ties, candles, mugs and other merchandise. The BSGE objected to this and found that the Bavarian Castle Department's trade mark registration was akin to "censorship" of the Neuschwanstein souvenir trade and filed for an invalidity of this mark at the DPMA.


According to the Mercur Online report, the BSGE argued that traders and souvenir manufacturers had to seek the Castle Department's approval and obtain licences for their castle merchandise. This could not be right since Neuschwanstein was a national monument and not a trade mark or brand. The Bavarian Castle Department countered by saying that this was not about money but an attempt to protect the castle from exploitation. The DPMA however appears to have decided in the BSGE's favour and invalidated the mark, reportedly stating that "Neuschwanstein" was an "often used", non-distinctive term" ("sprachübliche Bezeichnung") and thus not capable to indicate trade origin of the goods and services marketed under the sign. Mercur Online reports that The Castle Department has appealed the DPMA's decision and the matter will now have to be decided by the German Federal Patent Court.

While this Kat can see why the DPMA may have decided to invalidate the Neuschwanstein word mark registration, she cannot help but feeling some sympathy for the Bavarian Castle Department's desire to be able to regulate the good taste of the souvenirs sold, in particular after having conducted some online research into the Neuschwanstein souvenir industry. Merpel however wonders whether the horse may have already bolted (with or without a trade mark) and contemplates whether she should order herself a Neuschwanstein t-shirt....


Some background info on the castle can be found here (from the Bavarian Castle department).
German Markenblog has found several other Neuschwanstein device marks on the German register, which can be reviewed by clicking here.
Some interesting Castle gift's can be found on Zazzle's website here, where the above photos of the Neuschwanstein pet t-shirt, snow globe, tie and mousepad are taken from.
The German HR's classic "Cat Castle" trailer can be viewed here.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hideous stuff!

Flemish American said...

A similar situation exists in Belgium for the Atomium. Despite this, even the trademark "Atomium" has proceeded to registration in the Benelux and CTM registries for other owners although some of these might be on license for their respective products (example "Atomium" for a Premium Grand Cru).

Anonymous said...

Apparently, the decison to revoke the mark has been confirmed by the BPatG:

http://www.bgland24.de/nachrichten/bayern-lby/marke-neuschwanstein-geloescht-lby-1114855.html

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