The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) has ruled in favour of Berlin Zoo, home to Knut the polar bear from 2006 to 2011, in a scuffle with a UK registered company, Knut IP Management, over the rights to the brand ‘KNUT — DER EISBÄR’ (‘Knut – the polar bear’).

The UK firm, set up by Agnieszka Adamczyk, had applied for the trade mark in 2007 for goods including paper and cardboard goods, clothing, shoes and helmets, and sports articles and activities, while Knut was still alive. The European trade mark authority (The Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market, or OHIM) had rejected Knut IP Management’s trade mark application on the grounds that Berlin Zoo already had similar marks (including ‘Knud’) and an identical mark for other classes of goods, and that German consumers were likely to think any goods with the ‘KNUT — DER EISBÄR’ brand would be associated with Berlin Zoo. This week’s ruling from the CJEU confirmed this earlier decision, following an appeal from Knut IP Management.

Michael Shaw, European Trade Mark Attorney and Partner at Marks & Clerk, comments:

“As Berlin Zoo has found, there are many parties out there that look to piggy-back on famous brands by registering trade marks for them. If they hadn’t opposed Knut IP Management’s application for the ‘KNUT — DER EISBÄR’ trade mark, they may have found themselves unable to use the Knut brand themselves. This victory means that they are the sole owners of the Knut trade mark in Germany and can prevent others from taking advantage of it. Of course, with memories now fading two years on from Knut’s death, Berlin Zoo cannot be sure of how much money it can still make out of the once famous polar bear.

“Because the court’s decision was based on a conflict with German national trade marks owned by Berlin Zoo and not on Europe-wide trade marks, Knut IP Management may look to convert its now failed Europe-wide trade mark application into individual national applications in other European countries. Considering Knut is well-known outside Germany, this might make commercial sense for the UK-based company. If this happened, Berlin Zoo might struggle to persuade other national trade mark offices that it enjoys any rights to the trade mark outside Germany, and Knut IP Management could ultimately secure a monopoly on the trade mark in the rest of Europe.”