The Higher Regional Court of Cologne recently had to decide in a dispute of the use of the sign “wetter.de” on a smartphone app for weather news. By way of background and as you may have guessed, the German word "das Wetter" (thanks for pointing out the typo) translates into the English word weather.
|Wetter.de or wetter.at?|
|Prepared... come rain or shine|
The first instance court, the Regional Court of Cologne, decided in favour of wetter.at. On appeal, the Higher Regional Court of Cologne (case: 6 U 205/13 of 5 September 2014) initially confirmed that Smartphone apps could per se qualify for work title protection. However, the sign wetter.de did not possess the necessary (low) level of distinctiveness for weather related apps. In this context the Cologne judges referred to a precedent of the German Federal Court of Justice (BGH) relating to domain names (WRP 2014, 194, para 34 – Tagesschau-App) and took the view that the sign “wetter” had no distinctiveness for the app but only reflected the content of the app. A mere description of the content of work was, however, not protectable under Articles 5 (3), 15 (1, 2, 3 4) German Trade Mark Act, so that wetter.de’s claim failed. The judges explained that consumers would usually relate an app to a related domain and therefore regard the ending -.de as a simple reference to the top-level domain for Germany. The court also denied any claims under the German Act of Unfair Competition since wetter.de was able to act on the market unhindered. Takeaway point: an app will only attract protection as work title under the German Trade Mark Act if it is more than a mere description of the content of the work and thus meets a certain, albeit rather low, degree of distinctiveness. Wetter.at in the meantime remains free to use the signs “Wetter-DE/Wetter DE/wetter.de” for its apps.
While the Higher Regional Court’s decision seems logical and well reasoned, it would nonetheless be nice to have a BGH decision on this evolving field of law. Merpel still hopes for a further appeal to the BGH.