BitTorrent Inc. Emerges Victorious Following EU Trademark Dispute

BitTorrent Inc., the company behind the BitTorrent and uTorrent torrent clients, has emerged victorious following a long-running trademark dispute in Europe. The battle involved a German company, previously called Bittorrent Marketing GmbH, the EU Intellectual Property Office, the company itself, and an argument over a useless fax machine.

For anyone familiar with the BitTorrent brand, there can only be one company that springs to mind. BitTorrent Inc., the outfit behind uTorrent that still employs BitTorrent creator Bram Cohen, seems the logical choice, but not everything is straightforward.

Back in June 2003, a company called BitTorrent Marketing GmbH filed an application to register an EU trademark for the term ‘BitTorrent’ with the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO). The company hoped to exploit the trademark for a wide range of uses from marketing, advertising, retail, mail order and Internet sales, to film, television and video licensing plus “providing of memory space on the internet”.

The trademark application was published in Jul 2004 and registered in June 2006. However, in June 2011 BitTorrent Inc. filed an application for its revocation on the grounds that the trademark had not been “put to genuine use in the European Union in connection with the services concerned within a continuous period of five years.”

A year later, the EUIPO notified BitTorrent Marketing GmbH that it had three months to submit evidence of the trademark’s use. After an application from the company, more time was given to present evidence and a deadline was set for November 21, 2011. Things did not go to plan, however.

On the very last day, BitTorrent Marketing GmbH responded to the request by fax, noting that a five-page letter had been sent along with 69 pages of additional evidence. But something went wrong, with the fax machine continually reporting errors. Several days later, the evidence arrived by mail, but that was technically too late.

In September 2013, BitTorrent Inc.’s application for the trademark to be revoked was upheld but in November 2013, BitTorrent Marketing GmbH (by now known as Hochmann Marketing GmbH) appealed against the decision to revoke.

Almost two years later in August 2015, an EUIPO appeal held that Hochmann “had submitted no relevant proof” before the specified deadline that the trademark had been in previous use. On this basis, the evidence could not be taken into account.

“[The appeal] therefore concluded that genuine use of the mark at issue had not been proven, and held that the mark must be revoked with effect from 24 June 2011,” EUIPO documentation reads.

However, Hochmann Marketing GmbH wasn’t about to give up, demanding that the decision be annulled and that EUIPO and BitTorrent Inc. should pay the costs. In response, EUIPO and BitTorrent Inc. demanded the opposite, that Hochmann’s action should be dismissed and they should pay the costs instead.

In its decision published yesterday, the EU General Court (Third Chamber) clearly sided with EUIPO and BitTorrent Inc.

“The [evidence] document clearly contains only statements that are not substantiated by any supporting evidence capable of adducing proof of the place, time, extent and nature of use of the mark at issue, especially because the evidence in question was submitted, in the present case, three days after the prescribed period expired,” the decision reads.

The decision also notes that the company was given an additional month to come up with evidence and then some – the evidence was actually due on a Saturday so the period was extended until Monday for the convenience of the company.

“Next, EUIPO had duly informed the applicant, by letter of 19 July 2011, that it was ‘required to submit the required evidence of use in reply to the request within three months of receipt of this communication’ and that ‘if no evidence of use [was] submitted within this period, the [EU] mark w[ould] be revoked’,” the decision reads, adding;

“That letter also included guidance on how to provide evidence in a timely manner. Consequently, the applicant knew not only what documents it must submit, but also what the consequences of late submission of evidence were.”

All things considered, the Court rejected Hochmann Marketing GmbH’s application, ultimately deciding that not enough evidence was produced and what did appear was too late. For that, the trademark remains revoked and Hochmann Marketing must cover EUIPO and BitTorrent Inc.’s legal costs.

This isn’t the first time that BitTorrent Inc. has taken on BitTorrent/Hochmann Marketing GmbH and won. In 2014, it took the company to court in the United States and walked away with a $2.2m damages award.

Update (Feb 16, 2017): Harald Hochmann informs TorrentFreak that he has filed an appeal with the EU court.

“The victory of BitTorrent, Inc. was only at the 1st level of the European Court. Now we have filed the appeal [with the] 2nd level of the European Court, equal to the Supreme Court in the USA,” Hochmann says.

Hochmann’s summary of the appeal text and subsequent response from the EU court can be found here and here.

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