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Can a single company have an exclusive right to the term “Black Friday”?

Since 2013, the term “Black Friday” has been registered as a trademark in the trademark register, so that a single company has the right to advertise with it. The brand comprises more than 900 goods and services – finding a gap for one’s own product in order to promote it with a discount on Black Friday seems almost impossible.

If one resisted the registration and nevertheless advertised with Black Friday, the warning was often not long in coming. This could now change, because according to the judgment of the Berlin Appellate Court (KG Berlin Urt. V. 14.10.2022, Az. 5 U 46/21, not legally binding), the trademark is now to be cancelled, to the delight of many, with the consequence that the term “Black Friday” can once again be used freely.

Super Union Holdings Ltd., which is headquartered in Hong Kong, registered the term “Black Friday” as a trademark with the German Patent and Trademark Office (DPMA) in 2013. Seitdem hielt das Unternehmen die Markenrechte für den Begriff. As a result, companies that offered discounts to ring in the Christmas shopping season on the last weekend of November were warned off by Super Union Holdings Ltd. for using the term “Black Friday.” To combat these warnings, some companies, including the website, applied for cancellation of the trademark. Zunächst wurde dem Antrag stattgegeben.

Das wollte die Super Union Holdings Ltd. aber nicht auf sich beruhen lassen und wendete sich an das Bundespatentgericht. Dieses entschied, dass die Löschung der Marke teilweise rechtswidrig war. Die Entscheidung (inzwischen vollumfänglich bestätigt durch den BGH) wurde auf § 8 para. 2 No. 2 MarkenG gestützt. The reason for the partial cancellation of the trademark was therefore the need to keep it free. The need to keep the trademark free exists if the competitors have a legitimate interest in describing their own services with the trademark designation. However, the judges only recognized this interest in the area of advertising and electronic products. There remained over 900 other goods and services that were not allowed to be described with the term “Black Friday”. The Asian company therefore still had the trademark rights for the term “Black Friday” in Germany.

The website was not satisfied with this and brought an action for forfeiture before the Berlin Regional Court. Ziel der Klage: die Erklärung der Markeneintragung für verfallen, also das Feststellen der fehlenden Benutzung der Marke „Black Friday“ durch die Super Union Holdings Ltd. Die Berliner Richter haben zu Gunsten der Klägerin entschieden, was das Kammergericht Berlin nun am 14. Oktober 2022 bestätigte.

The Berlin Regional Court based its decision on § 49 Abs. 1 MarkenG. Danach muss eine Marke tatsächlich benutzt werden, um als solche anerkannt zu bleiben. In this respect, the burden of presentation and proof lies with the defendant. This is precisely where the ruling ties in: Super Union Holdings Ltd. has not met its burden of presentation and proof. It failed to convince the judges to actually use the “Black Friday” mark instead of just using it descriptively. Trademark protection does not apply in the present case because the term registered as a trademark must function for customers as an indication of the services of a particular company – which is not the case with “Black Friday”. The term precisely does not refer to the defendant or its services, but to a generally applicable discount promotion.

The decision of the Berlin Appellate Court (KG Berlin Urt. V. 14.10.2022, Az. 5 U 46/21) is not yet final. It remains to be seen whether Super Union Holdings Ltd. will take action against this or resign and finally have the once registered trademark “Black Friday” cancelled.