Trademark Dispute Over Polar Bear Ruled by European Court

Knut, the world famous polar bear from Germany lately became the subject of headlines for the first time since his death in 2011, after a British-registered firm was unable to trademark the name “KNUT- DER EISBÄR” (“Knut – The Polar Bear”). The Berlin Zoo, which possesses the trademark rights to the name KNUD, was successful in establishing its case at the European Court of Justice, which delivered its decision earlier this month.

Knut became popular after his mother rejected him and the zoo authorities decided to kill him. However, after much argument and a public protest, the zoo chose to keep Knut and appointed a full-time caretaker, who managed him until his adolescence. The polar bear became the principal attraction at the zoo, bringing in an increasing number of visitors and rising profits. At the time when his popularity was at the highest, i.e. in 2007, Knut was featured on the cover of Vanity Fair, and the gummy bear company Haribo had to increase its production of Knut themed candy due to the huge demand for it.

UK firm Knut IP Management Ltd. attempted to acquire the trademark for Knut that same year for varied purposes, including clothes and accessories, sporting activities, and paper goods. This attempt to trademark the name by the UK firm was initially rejected by the European trademark office and later the fight went to the courts finally reaching the European Court of Justice. In its recent decision, the court held that the name Knut IP was too similar to the existing trademark KNUD, which belongs to the zoo and has been used by it to push Knut related products and events. The Court also indicated that the names would be too similar for German speakers, and would create confusion among the consumers.

This recent controversy have raised questions as to the ownership of the brand that an animal can represent. Although Knut has died two years ago, his image has been immortalized by erecting a bronze statue at the Berlin Zoo. It is yet to be seen how much longer it will be profitable for the zoo to retain the animal’s trademark as the income from the trademark has been diminishing after the bear’s death.

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