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Court Cases

Toymaker Steiff suffers setback in trademark row over teddy bear ear button

All over Germany, toymaker Steiff is known for its quality teddy bears easily distinguishable by a button on their ears. But a European court has now ruled that the button does not qualify as an EU trademark.

Steiff was not entitled to a European trademark for attaching a button or a label attached by means of a button to the ear of a soft toy, the EU's General Court announced Thursday.

Therefore, the German toy manufacturer could not be granted protection in the sense of an exclusive right for its teddy bears and other soft toys bearing the button, the European Union's second-highest court said in a statement.

“The marks applied for were devoid of distinctive character enabling consumers to recognize the commercial origin of the products,” the court added.

Venerable toymaker Steiff, which started producing teddy bears in the late 19th Century, sought better protection from competitors that sell cheaper soft toys with similar ear buttons. However, its application to register the button as a trademark was turned down by Europe's Community Trade Office (OHIM) in 2010. The General Court ruling confirms OHIM's decision.

The court in Luxembourg also said in a statement that buttons and small labels constituted normal component parts of soft toys. Their fixation to the ear would be perceived as a decorative or functional element which could not be regarded as exceptional, it added.

Steiff didn't comment on the ruling so far. But it was given two months by the court to appeal the decision at the European Court of Justice – Europe's highest legal authority.

uhe/hc (AP, AFP, dpa)