Acronyms DKV and OKV are not confusing, rules court


In Deutsche Krankenversicherung v Ostdeutsche Kommunalversicherung (Case I ZB4/00), the Federal Supreme Court has ruled that the marks DKV and OKV, both registered in relation to insurance companies, are not confusingly similar. This is the first time the court has ruled on the likelihood of confusion between acronyms used as trademarks since they became protectable under German law in 1995.

The defendant (OKV) applied to register the mark 'OKV-Ostdeutsche Kommunalversicherung AG' in 1996. The plaintiff (DKV), which had registered the DKV mark the year before, opposed OKV's registration on the grounds that the two acronyms were confusingly similar. The Patent and Trademark Office, however, allowed the registration, finding no risk of confusion between the marks. DKV appealed to the Federal Supreme Court.

The Federal Supreme Court affirmed the lower court's ruling, reasoning that:

  • the public would not consider the acronym OKV by itself, but rather the complete, registered mark (ie, OKV-OSTDEUTSCHE KOMMUNALVERSICHERUNG AG);

  • consumers would notice the difference between the first letters of the two acronyms ('d' and 'o'), as is normally the case with short acronyms; and

  • the 'v' at the end of the acronyms (which stands for 'versicherung', meaning 'insurance') is not the focus of either mark and is frequently used by insurance companies.

For discussion of a European Court of First Instance decision that reached an opposite conclusion, see Prior registration of ILS defeats application for ELS.

Stefan Völker and Alexander R Klett, Gleiss Lutz, Stuttgart

Unlock unlimited access to all WTR content