Protection of environmental slogan? – Sustainability through Quality

Protection of environmental slogan? – Sustainability through Quality

 The case: In search of a catchy environmental slogan for its motors, control equipment and electronic and technological services, Groschopp AG Drives & More devised the following tagline:

Slogan Sustainability through Quality.png

In just three words, this slogan conveys the message that Groschopp’s products and services are sustainable and that this sustainability is based precisely on their quality. Groschopp also displays this slogan prominently thus:

Groschopp_Sustainability_through_ Quality_goodwillprotect.png

But did this slogan amount to a brand monopoly and achieve protection?

This was what Groschopp expected, registering the slogan as a Union trade mark.

The EUIPO, however, disagreed. The slogan was only laudatory in nature, and did not contain anything that could indicate the company origin of Groschopp’s products. Also, every competitor could point out that quality makes its products environmentally friendly.

Was this decision right?

After all, the European Court of Justice had approved Audi’s slogan ‘VORSPRUNG DURCH TECHNIK’ (advance through technolofy) as a trade mark.


According to Groschopp, both slogans were entirely comparable!

The purpose of a trade mark is to enable consumers to identify the commercial origin of a product or service and thus to distinguish it from competing offers, the so-called function as an indication of origin. This indication of the commercial origin must always be fulfilled to achieve protection as a trade mark.

A pure advertising medium, on the other hand, may praise the characteristics of goods or services. It need not specify – as required for a trade mark – that the praised products originate specifically from a particular business.

If a sign contains an advertising message, it must therefore somehow indicate the commercial origin of the products in order to be protected as a trade mark. For an advertising slogan, this means that it must contain some further information that helps consumers identify a sign of origin and remember the tagline subsequently as indicating origin. This indication of origin can result from a certain originality or conciseness, but also from a minimum level of interpretation that causes the consumer to think about the slogan and thus commit it to memory.

Audi’s slogan VORSPRUNG DURCH TECHNIK triggers such a need for interpretation on the part of the consumer. It is unclear what the word ‘Vorsprung’ (meaning, inter alia, ‘advance’ or ‘advantage’) in the slogan means. One meaning is the protruding part of a car. Another implied meaning is the distance ahead of a competitor – yet this does not mean that Audi’s cars are better as a result. Rather, the word Vorsprung is completely content-neutral. Nor is it clear what the ‘technology’ has to do with any advance Audi might have over competitors, or the nature of that advance. The slogan does not tell us what kind of advantage the technology provides Audi vehicles over other makes, or what kind of technology is actually meant. The slogan leaves all this completely open to interpretation, prompting the consumer to ponder these mysteries. It is this that makes Audi’s slogan memorable and distinctive. In addition, this slogan was already well known when it was applied for as a trade mark for Audi’s vehicles and therefore also contained the necessary indication of origin.

The environmental slogan ‘SUSTAINABILITY THROUGH QUALITY’ lacks all the above. It informs the beholder immediately and without any need for input that Groschopp’s products are sustainable and that this is based on their quality. This is pure advertising that highlights the characteristics of the products.

Groschopp’s slogan was consequently not granted trade mark status.

General Court of the European Union, 1 February 2023, case T-253/22.

Learnings: If you want to develop an environmental-related slogan, make sure that it also conveys certain information to consumers, at minimum, the origin of the products or services and something relevant to the consumer’s desire to purchase. If the slogan contains an immediately comprehensible advertising statement, the public will not have to ‘work’ at understanding its meaning; they will not need to spend time contemplating the possible meanings of the groups of words or memorising this slogan as a trade mark.

In case of doubt, it is better to seek a licence to use a certification mark for your sustainability claims. This trade mark provides you with the desired unique position, with the certification mark being created by the European Union as evidence of the existence of certain characteristics of products and services. The Green Brand Seal is such a European certification mark that represents sustainability:


Note: For the meaning of the certification mark, please also read the following BestCase:

How do you prove sustainability without greenwashing?

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