French company stakes claim to term 'B2B'

Companies in Europe using the term "B2B" -- short for "business to business" -- may be in for a nasty surprise. France's Computer Channel, a subsidiary of France Télécom SA, has apparently registered the term as a trademark and is attempting to enforce its rights internationally in at least one case.

Entrepreneur Stefan Kellermann of Lilienthal, Germany, said that he discovered the situation when he applied to register a logo for his startup, B2B Center, with the German patent office.

He received a letter from Computer Channel's lawyer, he said, stating that the company holds a trademark to the word "B2B" and demanding that he withdraw his application. The letter gave him until July 31 to act, he added.

"I never would have thought, honestly, that someone could register (the term) B2B," said Kellermann. His own attempted trademark is a word-image combination, he added, and is only intended to describe his new company's image. "We're not grabbers; we don't want to sell trademarks."

"Usually you can't register any terms which are merely descriptive, and so these terms have to be usually kept free for all competitors," said Kellermann's lawyer Peter Engelmann. "Therefore, I wonder why this trademark was registered in France, although the requirements for trademark registration in France are much lower than Germany."

He explained that Computer Channel had claimed a French trademark for the term and is now attempting to extend its rights internationally via the World Intellectual Property Organisation (WIPO) in Geneva.

When an individual or company attempts to register a German trademark, there is a three-month period during which others can file an objection, explained Irmgard Kirschnick of the German patent office in Munich. Though several other firms hold copyrights on words or images including the term "B2B," no one else has attempted to enforce its rights against Kellermann. The three-month deadline for objections runs out on August 4.

Engelmann added that Computer Channel's international trademark was filed some three months ago, but will not become final for another seven months. Under the WIPO process, he explained, member countries have the right to refuse to recognize an international copyright on their territory -- though as of now, he said, Germany has not done so in this case.

Computer Channel's German lawyer, Christian Hertz-Eichenrode of Hamburg, said that, due to attorney-client privilege, he could not discuss the case. Computer Channel did not return repeated phone calls and e-mails over several days. A spokeswoman for France Télécom referred a reporter back to Computer Channel itself.

Kellermann said he intends to fight for the right to use the term "B2B," though a court case could be prohibitively expensive for a small entrepreneur like himself. "I really don't think it's right," he said. "I find it macabre."

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