News Article

Ortlieb Fights with Online Platforms Over Interchangeability of Brands

Laws & Regulations

HEILSBRONN, Germany – Ortlieb, the bike and outdoor-equipment specialist making waterproof products, is involved in a legal battle with online platforms like Amazon. This fight is focused on the interchangeability of brands. After previously lower courts ruled in favour of Ortlieb the German Federal Court of Justice decided otherwise.

Ortlieb Fights with Online Platforms Over Interchangeability of Brands
Where this case boils down to is use of Ortlieb brandname by online browsing consumers resulting in them being forwarded to a variety of products by competing brands at platforms like Amazon. – Photo Ortlieb

Where this case boils down to is the use of the Ortlieb brandname by online browsing consumers. These searches result in consumers being forwarded to a variety of products by competing brands. Such interchangeability of brands, strategically promoted by platforms like Amazon, is opposed by Ortlieb.

Ortlieb statement

The in Heilsbronn, Germany based maker of, among other products, waterproof bike bags, issued a statement on its legal battle after the German Federal Court of Justice ruling. This statement is here in full.
“After all of the lower courts affirmed the validity of our legal view in the present matter, we regret that the German Federal Court of Justice decided on February 15, 2018 to send the case back to the court of appeals. It is our contention that the practice of merchandising the products of our competitors to online consumers when they enter the search term ‘ORTLIEB’ infringes our trademark rights and violates competition law, irrespective of the application of an algorithm-based search.”

‘Amazon promotes brands’ interchangeability’

“Indeed trademark rights and the protection of brand identity have become ever more important in a day and age when online market places such as Amazon strategically promote the interchangeability of brands. In a separate case, it was made even more apparent when the Higher Regional Court of Munich ruled in our favor without possibility of appeal. In this case Amazon had placed online ads with the trademark ORTLIEB in combination with the product category “panniers”, but the online consumer was instead forwarded to a variety of products by competing brands when clicking on the link.”

Strengthening brand’s rights

“Even though the Federal Court’s decision was not as hoped, its ruling has strengthened a brand’s rights to such an extent that competitive products have to be highlighted in a more obvious fashion when they are shown as part of the search results for a specific brand. Furthermore, we are very confident that the court of appeals will once again clearly rule in our favor. Regardless of the pending decision by the court of appeals, ORTLIEB will continue to proactively advance the cause of trademark protection in the context of its membership of the German Brands Association. This is because trademark rights and brand identity represent a necessary condition for the long-term maintenance of brand variety. Ultimately the digital economy can only continue to flourish if brand identities and merchant responsibilities remain transparent for consumers – a benefit that brands help to secure.”

At the end of last year the European Court of Justice ruled in a case against Internet platforms like Amazon, in favor of trademark rights and brand identity. That verdict was however related to authorized distributors selling premium branded products to, for instance, Amazon.

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