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Evergreen: Is it possible to mark a company with special symbols"//"?

The name of a company may only contain special symbols that can be clearly pronounced according to common usage.

Facts of the case

The Federal Court of Justice (Bundesgerichtshof, "BGH") had to decide on the following case: The shareholders of a GmbH & Co. KG applied for registration of the company name in the commercial register. Hereby, the special symbols "//" (slash) were to be used as a prefix to the company name "// CRASH...". The register court refused the registration. In the opinion of the register court, the pronunciation of these special symbols "//" was not clear. The shareholders objected to this by filing an appeal.

The decision of the Federal Court of Justice of January 25, 2022 (AZ II ZB 15/21)

The appeal was not successful. The BGH followed the opinion of the registry court. Important for the BGH was that the name of a company must be suitable for its identification. The pronounceability of the company name is necessary. If special symbols are to be used, it depends on whether they are used as a substitute for words in common usage. For the special symbols "//", there is precisely no corresponding word usage in general speech. The pronunciation of these special symbols is not clear and their use is not permissible.

Practical advice

The company name is an important part. It is also - or perhaps because of this - a constant focus of court decisions. Most recently, for example, the BGH had to rule on the admissibility of the suffix "partners" in the case of a limited liability company (BGH, decision dated April 13, 2021 - II ZB 13/20).

In principle, companies are free to create the company name as they want. However, certain requirements and limits must be observed. Accordingly, the registration court may also refuse the registration in the commercial register if the chosen company name is not within these requirements and limits. Subsequent changes to the company name are time-consuming and can, in particular, also lead to a considerable loss of image for the company. In order to avoid this, caution is required when choosing a company name.

The decision of the BGH confirms the previous line that special symbols are basically possible for the company name. However, it is a prerequisite that these special symbols can be clearly articulated as word substitutes. The benchmark here is general (!) usage of the language. It is therefore irrelevant whether the language used is specific for a certain industry. In this benchmark it is recognized that the "&" sign or "+" signs (pronounced as "and") satisfy these requirements.

In practice, the special symbol "@" is of particular interest in connection with the digitalization. Back to the early decisions this was an impermissible component of a company name (e.g. Bavarian Supreme Court, decision dated April 4, 2001 - 3Z BR 84/01), But more recent decisions have been considerably more liberal (e.g. Berlin Regional Court, decision dated January 13, 2004 - 102 T 122/03). The reasons for the decision under consideration here indicate that the BGH has followed the more liberal tendencies. This is also supported by the fact that the "@" is now regarded as a substitute for the word "at" in legal and commercial transactions and is also generally articulated in this way.

In contrast, recent developments show that a company name using non-Latin letters (such as Arabic, Russian or Chinese) is sometimes considered inadmissible.

Also inadmissible are figurative signs whose articulations are not possible in the German language and/or are not commonly used.

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