There has recently been a trademark incident here in Germany: A company tried to trademark the term "hackathon", got it through and even sent out licence agreement request letters until it got noticed by the community, a huge sh*tstorm broke lose (private Facebook Group) and they pulled it from the registry. And while that is widely considered a success of the community against legal stuff, this actually shows a ignorance of how the system is set up and why it works in the first place.

By accusing the “Deutsche Patent- and Markenamt (DPMA)” to not even being able to Google to figure out that term is already in use and not by those, who claim to do so, it only shows you don’t understand what the task of the markenamt is. They are just a public record. They are not proving any trademark. They aren’t even proving whether that same trademark might actually be in the register already. They only prove a really basic set of rules against your application and if you pass them, you get the approval.

And that also shows the value of that approval: it has none. Whether a term can be trademarked and that trademark can be enforced is only decided by court in Germany. And that doesn’t happen for every application but only if someone tries to enforce a trademark and someone else challenges them. And that goes independent of any registration of the DPMA. If you used a term first and you can prove that you did, you’ll have the ownership of the trademark. Period.

And the DPMA, as a public and official registry, helps you prove that point. But for that you still need to be the first to use that trademark with that idea in that space and by someone else using it in the same area having the risk of people be confused, a court would rule in their favour. But that also means, any other kind of public record is a valid prove, too. So in this case, any other public use of the word before that registry entry, any advertisement, Newspaper article or even a DNS-Entry using that word, is prove enough that they were not the first. And no court would ever rule in their favour.

So this whole licence thing is just a scare scam to make people pay by having some official looking document. But legally speaking, they have no ground to actually enforce it at all. And here comes the crux that so few understand: By having them deleted their entry, nothing ended. Anyone else could still register the trademark and do the same scam again, and that time it might actually be someone bigger, with more lawyers (which can make that a really expensive process to fight) and they are smart enough to also register “hack day”, “hackfest”, “codathon” and “codefest”.