“Oktoberfest”: A Missed Celebration & a Hard Term to Trademark

Bartender pouring beer from a tap
Photo by Louis Hansel (Unsplash)

Shawn Dhue is an IPilogue Writer and a 2L JD Candidate at Osgoode Hall Law School.

 

The Joyful Celebration of Beer: Oktoberfest

Originating in October 1810, Oktoberfest has been a celebration of beer for centuries. This two-week festival, starting in September and finishing the first Sunday of October, is held yearly in Munich, Germany. People travel from all around the world to consume upwards of two million gallons of beer.

Local communities around the world host their own version of the celebration. Around the same time of year, cities such as Waterloo and Toronto either keep the name or call it Beer Fest. However, nothing can beat the traditional festivities in Munich. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has stopped the normal festival from running for the last two years. On Saturday, September 18, 2021, locals and travellers from around the globe should have filled the streets of Munich, while being intoxicated and laughing with old and new friends.

Munich not holding their traditional volksfest (“beer festival”) isn’t the only difference this year. After many years and multiple attempts, the organizers of this spectacular funfair have finally trademarked the term “Oktoberfest.”

The Uphill Battle of Trademarking the Term “Oktoberfest”

Since 2016, the City of Munich has put forward applications to trademark the term; and ever since 2016, their applications have been rejected. The German Patent and Trade Mark Office (DPMA) has repeatedly denied Munich the trademark. DPMA states that the term is “a purely descriptive indication” and must remain public pursuant to subsection 8(2) No. 2 of Markengesetz, Germany’s trademark legislation.

Flash-forward to fall 2020, after Munich cancelled Oktoberfest for the first time, the city registered for the trademark with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). After months of discussions and the DPMA appealing the decision, Munich successfully achieved its goal on May 1, 2021. The EUIPO allowed Munich to trademark Oktoberfest under twenty-two product classes including, most importantly, tourism advertising. The application to the EUIPO stated that Munich wished to trademark the term to prevent others from advertising and profiting off products associated with the event or events replicating the festival. The trademark allows Munich exclusive rights over the term in products ranging from credit cards to soap.

Therefore, although Munich is not allowed to hold Oktoberfest again this year, this trademark protection ensures that no one else profits off the term; a matter that the city already legally fought in 2021.

The Trademark in Action: Oktoberfest in Dubai

Earlier in 2021, a group of corporations announced that since Munich could not hold its traditional Oktoberfest, Dubai would hold the festivities. The organizers attempted to recreate the festival under the phrase, “Oktoberfest in Dubai.” As imagined, this event angered many Germans. Munich acted quickly and released a statement reassuring the world that the original event was not moving locations. Additionally, Munich took the organizers to court.

Clemens Baumgärtner, the head of Oktoberfest, and Munich brought a claim to the Munich I Regional Court. On June 25, 2021, the Court ruled in favour of Baumgärtner and Munich. The judgment states that the organizers of the copycat festival were banned from using their slogan, the term “Oktoberfest,” and any pictures of the traditional festival in their advertising. The judge stated: “The good reputation of the Munich Oktoberfest is being unfairly exploited by the organisers and the target public is being deceived.” Baumgärtner says that although the global pandemic shut down the event for the second year in a row, Oktoberfest moving to Dubai is “absolutely absurd.”

A Happy Ending for Munich

These events show how crucial it is for areas to protect their cultures and their historical events. Every year, the media portrays Oktoberfest in different countries, under the same name or another (“Beerfest” for example); every year, it’s, in my opinion, an awful portrayal of the German traditions that occur in Munich. Munich’s Oktoberfest is not just for drinking beer and getting intoxicated. Although simplified to “beer festival,” the term “volksfest” is also known as a “people’s festival.” A volksfest always has beer, but also amusement rides, games, food, and many more attractions. These festivals connect and unite a community, creating a sense of belonging. Trademarking the term “Oktoberfest” helps Munich protect its history and deter copycats from slandering the name. I believe modern laws, especially intellectual property and trademark laws, have amazing developments which protect history and culture.

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