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Business

Court Confirms Deutsche Telekom's Right to Pink

A warning to all telecommunications companies: Hands off the color pink, or you could be slapped with a lawsuit by Deutsche Telekom.

German telecommunications giant Deutsche Telekom has successfully defended its trademark use of the color pink -- or magenta, as the company prefers to call it -- in a ruling handed down by the Federal Court of Justice in Bonn on Thursday.

Telekom brought the case against competitor Mobilcom, after a 1998 advertising campaign in which Mobilcom urged Telekom customers to switch to its services instead. The ads were printed using a bright shade of pink. Telekom's lawyers argued there was a danger that customers would be confused because the public associates pink with Telekom. The court agreed.

Under the ruling, Mobilcom and other telecommunications companies are prohibited from using Telekom's shade of pink in any advertising.

Some might have thought Telekom would have given up its attempts to copyright a color. Last year, the company lost a similar suit against the Munich-based telecoms firm Starcom, which had dared to use pink in its advertising brochures. But that defeat was based on a technicality -- Starcom's lawyers were able to argue that the color wasn't being used as a distinguishing feature.

Color not the only concern

It's not just that distinctive shade of pink that Telekom is protective about. The company is also embroiled in a legal battle to do what no other German company has done before -- to claim the trademark rights to a single letter of the alphabet, in this case, a capital "T."

A court in Cologne has suggested the company conduct a survey to see whether Germans really associate the letter "T" with Deutsche Telekom. It won't come as a surprise if they do. Telekom has spent millions of euros since it went public in 1996 branding its products and services with the "T" logo.

But it remains questionable whether the company will succeed in that trademark quest. Telekom lost a recent case against the Berlin-based multimedia advertising agency Team-Konzept. The Cologne court in that case ruled that the white "T" against a red background used in Team-Konzept's logo was not similar enough to Telekom's to warrant trademark infringement damages.

Telekom confident of victory

Nonetheless, Stephan Althoff, who heads up Telekom's branding and advertising department, is confident the company will ultimately win the rights to the big "T" -- at least in the world of German advertising.

"We have to see this sort of legal action through to the end, otherwise we'd lose the legal protection for our 'T' brand family," Althoff said, referring to Telekom divisions such as T-Mobile and T-Online.

But Telekom's efforts are also fueling a backlash from other companies. Team-Konzept CEO Udo Blenk has started a symbolic fundraising campaign for the "Freedom of the letter 'T'." If Telekom does get the exclusive rights to the "T" logo, that money could come in handy, since Team-Konzept could face fines as high as €500,000 for trademark infringement.

But Team-Konzept co-founder Andreas Schmidt isn't fretting.

"It can't be that pink is struck from the palette and the letter 'T' from the alphabet just because Telekom wants it that way," Schmidt said.

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