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Domain names as trade marks in Austria

Digital brand engagement has become more and more important in the last years in the CEE: for example, in the realms of eBooks, training courses, software and domain names. In some cases, domain names can qualify for trade mark protection in the CEE

September 2013

In a recent ruling1, the Austrian Supreme Patent and Trademark Senate recognised that domain names have not only an "address" function but a can also have a distinctive function2 and thus enjoy trademark protection.

In a further ruling on TECHNOLOGY.AT the Austrian Supreme Patent and Trademark Senate (contrary to the first and second instance of the Austrian PTO) considered TECHNOLOGY.AT to be sufficiently distinctive3. Particular focus was given by the Senate to the fact that "TECHNOLOG" implies no information on the nature, type or nature of the services to which it relates. The Senate found that the term "technology" has changed in meaning over the past decades. In pre-internet-age, "technology" only captured the "teaching of the technic", while the modern parlance also understands the methodology and procedures as well as the technology itself. This was the main indicator to register TECHNOLOGY.AT as a trade mark in Austria.

Trademark protectionHowever, only some types of commercial domain names qualify for trademark protection. While domain names which use common or descriptive terms, such as the Hungarian "idegenvezető.hu" (Hungarian for guidebook) or its Czech counterpart "pruvodce.cz" (Czech for guidebook), may work very well to bring users to a website, they usually would not qualify for much trademark protection. This means also that owners of such descriptive domain names generally won't have much luck stopping the use of these words and phrases in other domain names.

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1Austrian Supreme Patent and Trademark Senate, 14.11.2012, Obm 3/12- LOUNGE.AT

2Austrian Supreme Patent and Trademark Senate, 14.11.2012, Obm 3/12- LOUNGE.AT

3Austrian Supreme Patent and Trademark Senate, 29.06.2011, OBm 2/11 – TECHNOLOGY.AT