'Walkman' has become generic, rules Supreme Court


The Austrian Supreme Court has held in Sony v Time Tron Corp (4 Ob 269/01i), that Sony's trademark WALKMAN has become a generic term for portable stereos and therefore Sony cannot prevent others from using 'walkman' to describe similar goods.

Sony, the Japanese manufacturer of consumer electronics, including the WALKMAN brand of portable stereos, sued the Austrian company Time Tron to prevent it from selling portable stereos, manufactured by Sony's competitors, as 'walkmans'.

The Supreme Court held that Sony has lost all its rights in the trademark WALKMAN since (i) both the general public and trade groups use the term 'walkman' to describe all makes of portable stereo, and (ii) there is no other equivalent general term in German to delineate Sony's competitors' products.

The court reasoned that Sony's privileged status as the owner of the WALKMAN trademark cannot be justified as it creates a monopolizing effect. This has the potential of rendering ordinary communication between parties involved in the sale and purchase of portable stereos an infringement of Sony's trademark rights. In addition, the court heard evidence that a German dictionary defines the term 'walkman' as a common noun for portable cassette players, and Sony had apparently not taken action to have the definition retracted.

Marcella Prunbauer, Prunbauer Peyrer-Heimstätt & Romig, Vienna

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