A dentist is allowed to promote his or her homepage with the term “Praxisklinik”, i.e. “(practice) clinic”, even if they do not admit patients for extended periods of time as inpatients. That was the verdict of the Landgericht (LG) Essen, the Regional Court of Essen.
The following facts and circumstances informed the LG Essen’s judgment from November 8, 2017 (Az.: 44 O 21/17): A dentist had made repeated use of the term “Die Praxisklinik”, in other words “the clinic”, on his website for promotional purposes and was admonished by an association representing commercial interests for doing so. The Association viewed the term “Praxisklinik” as misleading to consumers and a violation of competition law, stating in its reasoning that the clinic did not admit patients for extended periods of time as inpatients. It went on to claim, however, that the term “Klinik” is synonymous with “Krankenhaus”, i.e. hospital, in the eyes of consumers and thus entails the possibility of inpatient treatment.
The injunction was nonetheless unsuccessful. The Court held that the term “Praxisklinik” was not misleading in terms of the Gesetz gegen den unlauteren Wettbewerb (UWG), Germany’s Unfair Competition Act. The LG Essen took the view that consumers’ understanding of the term “Praxisklinik” entailed an outpatient facility where surgical procedures can also be performed. It noted that while the term “Klinik” was originally regarded as being synonymous with “Krankenhaus”, it now covers both inpatient as well as outpatient facilities. By positioning the word “Praxis” immediately before “Klinik”, this was said to restrict consumers’ understanding to encompass only outpatient treatment. The Court concluded that consumers understand the term “Praxisklinik” to mean an outpatient facility where surgical procedures are also possible.
The Court’s ruling shows that the meaning of the word “Klinik” in its use as an integral part of a larger concept has since been stretched to more than a synonym for hospital. It drew a parallel with the term “Tagesklinik”, literally “day clinic”. We at the commercial law firm GRP Rainer Rechtsanwälte note that in this example it was also said to be evident that patients are not admitted as inpatients.
Violations of competition law are nevertheless easily committed and can be met with severe penalties. Lawyers who are experienced in the field of competition law can offer advice as well as enforce or fend off claims in the event that violations of competition law occur.