Saturday, January 29, 2011



Microsoft's attempt to prevent Apple trademarking the name "App Store" has been widely reported, e.g. in the FT:
Russell Pangborn, a legal adviser for trademarks at Microsoft, said an “app store” was an “app store”. Like “shoe store” or “toy store,” it was a generic term that was commonly used by companies, governments and individuals that offered apps. The term “app store” should continue to be available for use by all without fear of reprisal by Apple, he said
This is precisely what Germans refer to as a Freihaltebedürfnis (there are variants: Freihaltungsbedürfnis, Freihaltebedürftigkeit etc.). And sure enough that term crops up immediately in German accounts of the case, e.g.
Kann Apple den Begriff “App Store” markenrechtlich schützen lassen oder ist dieser bereits ein freihaltungsbedürftiger Gattungsbegriff?
Now there was a recent discussion at LanguageLog of languages "having no word for X" and as to whether real-world inferences can be drawn about the relevant language communities from the fact that a particular word is lacking e.g. Italians have no word for accountability therefore there is no accountability in Italy.

It is clear from various sources (and from interpreting in trademark cases) that English "has no word for" Freihaltebedürfnis:

Linguee tells us how "other people" translated Freihaltebedürfnis into English. "Freedom interests" seems to be a popular choice, although it's not a term that ever appears to have occurred to any English-speaker in the wild (and certainly not to Microsoft's lawyers). This is the best that the brains trust could come up with. The winning entry doesn't really capture the meaning, you would have to say.

Yet the App Store report clearly shows that relevant English-speakers are fully acquainted with the concept of
Freihaltebedürfnis even though English doesn't seem to have acquired a single word for it (or any convenient matching expression).

The German term is occasionally used in English (and other languages), particularly at the European Court of Justice, here by Advocate General Jacobs (a native English-speaker) for example. But as far as I can see it is used only in relation to German cases and even then only tentatively, so it cannot be said to have been borrowed. The fact that it presents something of a mouthful for the non-German speaker has probably not helped its assimilation.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


Stones from a glasshouse

Lots of media coverage recently (here and here, for example) of the fact that Spain's co-official languages (Catalan, Basque, Galician, Valencian) can now be spoken in plenary sessions of the Spanish Senate.

Plenty too of the kind of criticism one would expect: the senators all speak Spanish anyway so why pay for a tower of babel when they can communicate just fine without it. In short, it is a purely symbolic measure with no practical benefit.

The cost involved is fairly minuscule in the greater scheme of things. The Senate's annual interpretation budget is reported to be €350,000. Not the sort of sum that normally warrants international or even national coverage in these days of multi-billion euro bailouts.

Of course from another perspective it is a sizeable sum. And public money, lets not forget. But in the context in which it is being criticized as wasteful - spiralling unemployment, budget austerity etc. - it is clearly too small to make any impression.

So to deny senators the right to use the co-official languages would also be a purely symbolic measure with no practical benefit.

Interestingly, the Spanish nationalists who disparage the use of the co-official languages are not always such pragmatists. In the very same edition of El País where people are complaining about the cost of interpretation at the senate, there is an article by two academics criticizing Europe's various failings, including this one:
Otrosí, el número de solicitudes de patentes de origen chino supera ya al de todos los países europeos juntos y, entretanto, aquí nos pasamos el rato discutiendo si la Oficina Europea de Patentes debe imponer la traducción de las solicitudes a una docena de lenguas, o solo a cinco, o solo a tres, mientras nuestra diplomacia se encocora y desmelena porque se va a excluir el español, una lengua que, no se olvide, es responsable de apenas el 1% de las solicitudes europeas de patentes
So Spain has for many years been holding up agreement on a European patent - identified by the European Commission as a key element of Europe's competitiveness strategy - just because Spanish is not to be one of the official languages.

As one patent attorney puts it:
It is a pain to watch the Government of a country like Spain ruining progress on EU level by insisting on nurturing some sort of national pride
Catalan, Basque and Galician have had right of audience in the EU's Committee of the Regions for some years now. I understand it is Spain itself rather than the EU that foots the bill for this since they are not official EU working languages. But it probably doesn't cost very much anyway since there are a number of interpreter colleagues with passive CA, GL and EU (and interpreters cost the same whether they work out of ten languages or two).

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