These days a certain four-letter expletive — arguably English's naughtiest word — is bouncing around the European Court of Justice. But it's not coming from potty-mouthed prosecutors: The obscenity lies at the heart of an unprecedented case over patenting vulgarity, Berlin-based daily Die Welt reports.
It's a case several years in the making. In 2015, the German production company Constantin Film released the second installment in its comedic trilogy Fack ju Göhte, a playful misspelling of "F*ck You Goethe," about the hapless life of an ex-con-cum-high school teacher. The title, which insults the name of Germany's most famous writer, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, didn't seem to offend the German censors. But for the European Union's Intellectual Property Office, the EU's patent bureau, the cursing came with a cost.
Contrary to accepted principles of morality.
The European patent chiefs refused to license the film's title for marketing on merchandise, like t-shirts and coffee mugs. In its 2015 decision, the office invoked a 2009 regulation which prevents it from issuing trademarks that are contrary to "accepted principles of morality." The crude title, it argued, "insults the highly-respected author posthumously."
After the Board of Appeals of the EU intellectual property body confirmed the original decision, the case has now landed at the European Court of Justice. The production company contends that the meaning of the f-word has expanded over the years beyond a sex act, now claiming many different connotations, more and less offensive. Plus, Constantin Film maintains, the misspelling distances it far enough from the common English and German obscenity.
If the ECJ rules in favor of the production company, the European overseers of patents and intellectual property will be forced to grant the trademark and pay legal fees. Such would be the price for a bunch of fudge.