A lot of breweries name their beer after the location where it is brewed. As demonstrated by a ruling of the Oberlandesgericht (OLG) München [Higher Regional Court of Munich], the name is not always an indication of geographical origin as well.
GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: One beer produced by a brewery from Bavaria includes the name of a lake several kilometers away in its name. However, due to the fact that the beer is not actually brewed at that location, another Bavarian brewery considered this to be a violation of both the German Markengesetz [Trademark Act] and competition law, and ultimately filed a lawsuit. The defendant brewery pointed out that it had named its beer after an ice-hockey club and not the lake.
The dispute finally came before the Oberlandesgericht München. The OLG dismissed the legal action, ruling in its judgment of March 17, 2016 that the name of the beer did not represent an indication of geographical origin (Az.: 29 U 2878/15).
According to the Trademark Act, indications of geographical origin cannot be used in relation to goods if the products in question do not originate from the area which the indication of geographical origin refers to or if the use of this type of information with respect to goods of another origin risks creating a misleading impression regarding the geographical origin. The OLG held that for the purposes of assessing whether these criteria are met it is the perspective of the average consumer who is reasonably well-informed and circumspect which is decisive.
In the instant case, the average consumer was said not to view the name of the beer as an indication of geographical origin, as there are several other lakes with this name throughout Germany and not only in Bavaria. Having said that, none of these lakes is well-known nationwide. For this reason, the beer’s geographical origin could not be derived from its name and consumers could not attribute it to any particular lake.
Violations of competition law or the Trademark Act can be severely punished. Formal written warnings, injunction suits and damages claims are all possible consequences. Lawyers who are versed in the field of competition law can assist clients in fending off or enforcing these claims.