09. Sep 16

OLG Thüringen: Misleading advertising through use of a manufacturer’s logo

If a car dealership advertises with a manufacturer’s logo without being an authorized dealer, this may constitute misleading advertising vis-à-vis consumers and violate competition law.

GRP Rainer Lawyers and Tax Advisors in Cologne, Berlin, Bonn, Düsseldorf, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Munich, Stuttgart and London conclude: As one car dealership recently learned, advertising with a brand logo without being an authorized dealer can prove to be critical. In addition to being an authorized dealer for various automobile brands, the dealership in question also displayed the logo of another car company featuring only slight changes to the colouring. However, the dealership was not an authorized dealer for the latter brand. In its ruling of May 25, 2016, the Thüringer Oberlandesgericht (OLG) [Higher Regional Court of Thuringia] held that this went beyond permissible, cautious use of a brand name, finding that this was misleading to consumers (Az.: 2 U 514/15).

Specifically, the car dealership had attached the logo of a car manufacturer both to its façade and letterheaded paper without being an authorized dealer for this brand. The logo as it was displayed in this context featured only slight changes to the colouring. Irrespective of whether this represented an infringement of trademark law, a consumer watchdog sought an injunction on the basis that using this logo was misleading to consumers. Its legal action was successful at second instance.

The OLG Thüringen prohibited the advertising, stating that by using the logo consumers were given the impression that the car dealership was an authorized dealer for this brand. It went on to say that the minor modifications to the colour of the logo were immaterial in the eyes of the average consumer. Particularly as a result of the fact that the dealership is an authorized dealer for a variety of car manufacturers, consumers had the impression forced upon them that this was the case here as well.

On the other hand, the fact that the car dealership had also promoted itself on the basis of being a specialist workshop for this brand was not considered to be problematic by the OLG. It ruled that consumers would not automatically conclude from this that the dealership was an authorized dealer, but rather would merely assume that the latter possessed specialist expertise in relation to this brand, which the dealership did in fact have.

Failure to observe the relevant regulations when it comes to advertising can give rise to violations of competition law. Possible consequences include formal written warnings, injunction suits and claims for damages. Whether they are seeking to fend off or enforce claims, businesses can turn to lawyers who are experienced in the field of competition law for advice.

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