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.

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