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This symbol isn't a trademark!

In the words of the great Bard: "Oh no!" (sonnet 116). An exclamation mark cannot be registered as an EU trademark, the German clothing and perfume company Joop! learnt yesterday.

The Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market – the EU's trademark office – said such a sign lacked "distinctive character". The clothing company appealed to the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg, but that also threw out the request.

But the judges ruled that a symbol which did not possess distinctive character could possibly be registered as a trademark if it became associated with the goods or services marketed by the company.

But, they decided, Joop! had failed to show that the exclamation mark had acquired such distinction through the company's existing use of it in branding across Europe.

Even an exclamation mark in a rectangular frame could not be considered distinctive enough, said the judges, although that would give the exclamation mark the appearance of a label.

The German company may have had reason to be optimistic, the mark only having first appeared in Germanic as recently as the Luther bible of 1797, more than 300 years after English printers used it.

Their misfortune, however, will doubtless be warmly received by excitable email writers the world over, particularly females, who, according to a 2006 study by the university of Indiana, use the mark more frequently than their male counterparts.