Trademark delivering mock snub to Germany's Goethe wins court backing


  • World
  • Thursday, 27 Feb 2020

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - The phrase "Fack Ju Goehte", the title of a successful German film which refers to the country's most famous writer, does not seem to have offended Germans, Europe's top court said on Thursday, ordering trademark authorities to rethink their veto.

The long-running row started in 2015 when the EU Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) dismissed an application by Constantin Film, co-producer of the 2013 film, to trademark the title and use it for goods and services.

The patent body said the pronunciation of the words "Fack Ju" was identical to an English expletive, was shocking and vulgar, and also offended Goethe posthumously.

A lower tribunal in 2018 backed the rejection, prompting Constantin Film to appeal to the Luxembourg-based Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU), Europe's highest.

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, who died in 1832, was a literary giant whose works include the play Faust, the epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, and numerous poems and plays.

Schools named after Goethe are found all over Germany while the country's international cultural institute is called the Goethe Institute.

The CJEU said the title of the film did not appear to have stirred up controversy among film goers, while even the Goethe Institute used the film for educational purposes.

"EUIPO must give a fresh decision on the application made by Constantin Film for registration of the sign Fack Ju Goehte as an EU trade mark," the CJEU said.

"EUIPO and the General Court, which both found that the sign is contrary to accepted principles of morality, failed to take sufficient account of the fact that the title of a comedic film does not appear to have been perceived as morally unacceptable by the German-speaking public at large."

The title referred to graffiti painted on a train by one of the characters in the film. The 2013 film, which was also a success in Austria, spawned two sequels in 2015 and 2017.

The case is C-240/18 P Constantin Film Produktion v. EUIPO

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee, Editing by William Maclean)

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