German Court Upholds EPAL Trademark
EPAL Trademark Ruling: Court prohibits sale of copycat EPAL pallets; ruling raises questions about maintaining standards in a cost-conscious environment.
By Chaille Brindley
Date Posted: 8/1/2009
The European Pallet Association (EPAL), which oversees the largest EUR-pallet pool in the world, has won a legal battle to keep a copycat pallet off the market.
A German district court in Erfurt ruled that wooden pallets may no longer be sold with the mark ‘World’ in the oval. This pallet had been marketed in Europe over the last year by Falkenhahn AG, a German pallet manufacturer.
EPAL stated, “This mark conspicuously resembles the marks ‘EUR in the oval’ and ‘EPAL in the oval,’ which have been used for the marking of Europallets for many years. This resemblance causes the danger that ‘World’ pallets are mistaken for Europallets and especially creates the wrong impression that world pallets are exchangeable in the European Pallet Pool.”
The district court refused to oblige Falkenhahn to delete the mark on existing pallets because that function falls within the jurisdiction of the Office of Harmonization for the Internal Market.
EUR-pallets are commonly called Europallets in North America. The EUR standard is the primary quality driver behind the largest pallet pool in the world.
EPAL brought the lawsuit because it felt Falkenhahn was attempting to take advantage of the reputation attributed to the EUR-standard without being a part of the official program.
EPAL stated that the verdict of the district court is not legally binding yet and for this reason ‘World’ pallets will presumably still be offered for the time being. But it does appear that the days of the ‘World’ pallet are numbered unless the manufacturer develops a mark that differs significantly from the EPAL and EUR marks or decides to keep on fighting in the courts. Falkenhahn continues to market the “World” pallet on its Web site.
This case raises the issue of pallet pools, marks and confusion in the marketplace. As standards, pools, and certifications become a bigger deal in North America, fraud and the likelihood of customer confusion becomes a bigger concern.
Falkenhahn emphasized the price advantage of the new ‘World’ pallet for the standard European dimension of 800x1200 mm. With its ‘World’ pallet, Falkenhahn AG targeted mostly exporters. The fact that the pallets are produced in a fully automated manufacturing process and are not subject to the usual franchise fees, which otherwise must be paid, results in direct savings. Falkenhahn claimed it could sell a similar pallet at a 10-20% discount.
While strikingly similar in size and dimension, the fact that the pallet is manufactured outside of the EPAL-certification and marking system means the ‘World’ pallet cannot be exchanged within the public pool of EUR-pallets as an official EUR-pallet.
Some companies may be tempted by the cheaper price, but the impact at the end of the line could mean that the shipper is unable to sell or exchange the pallet. This may not be an issue for exports outside of Europe, where the EUR-pallet is strongest. But it certainly causes problems as the EUR-pallet tries to develop the first dominant global pallet standard and brand.
This raises the question: how important is a real standard for pallet users? Companies will shout about the need for quality and certification while privately taking actions that dilute the standards that exist. The implications of the ‘World’ pallet in the marketplace could indeed impact the future of any effort to develop a truly global pallet standard.
Do you want reprints or a copyright license for this article? Click here
Research and connect with suppliers mentioned in this article using our FREE ZIP Online service.