Judges say Yes to Dr No trademark bid

European judges today said yes to a German company's bid to trademark Dr No - despite opposition from the American owners of the rights to the James Bond films.

Dr No, the 1962 movie starring Sean Connery, is one of the most famous Bond film titles. But the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg ruled that, however instantly recognisable the name, it is not a protected trade mark.

The verdict clears the way for a German media group, Mission Productions, to register the name across the EU at the end of an eight-year legal battle.

The loser is Danjaq, the company which manages the intellectual property rights to the Bond series of films.

Danjaq claimed there was a risk of confusion because of 007's association with the terms Dr No and Dr NO, as used in the film and related promotions.

But today the judges argued that the essential function of a trade mark was commercial recogntion - and Dr No and Dr NO as used by Danjaq were artistic, and not commercial, signs.

The judgement said: "Those signs, affixed to the covers of the video cassettes or to the DVDs, help to distinguish that film from other films in the James Bond series. The commercial origin of the film is indicated by other signs, such as 007 or James Bond.

"In those circumstances, the signs Dr No and Dr NO cannot be regarded as well known trade marks or non-registered trade marks that could be relied on in order to oppose the registration of a Community trade mark."

Today's appeal ruling follows Danjaq's earlier failed attempt to oppose registration of the trade mark to the German firm when it was originally approved by the EU's trade mark office.

Following that decision, Danjaq applied for registration as an EU trade mark of all the other James Bond film titles.

So far 18 have been registered, but EU trade mark approval for the other three names - Casino Royale, Octopussy and Goldeneye has been challenged by other companies and is still pending.

The judges today acknowledged that the titles of artistic works are protected by certain national laws as "distinctive signs outside the area of copyright".

German and Swedish law, for example, gives copyright-style protection to titles against the registration of similar names which could cause confusion, "provided that such titles have distinctive character and are used in the course of trade".

In the case of Dr No, though, documents submitted by Danjaq had been "too general, not objective, and irrelevant to the countries concerned" and were insufficient to establish Dr No as having been used "in the course of trade".

The judges said it would not have been to difficult to establish the extent of the use of the title, by providing programming details of the film, either for cinemas or television.