Porsche's electric car sound trademark rejected by the EUIPO

In a world increasingly defined by visual branding, a quieter but no less profound revolution is taking place—one that centers on the power of sound. In this soundscape of innovation, the concept of sound trademarks has emerged as a novel frontier in intellectual property. German sports car manufacturer Porsche recently found itself embroiled in a trademark dispute that not only underscores the challenges of creating a unique electric vehicle sound but also sheds light on the broader significance of sound trademarks in a rapidly changing automotive landscape.

By

Igor Demcak

In November 2022, Porsche submitted a trademark application to the European Union Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO) for a distinctive sound designed to accompany the acceleration of its electric vehicles. The aim was not only to comply with safety regulations but also to establish a unique auditory identity for Porsche's electric cars. Porsche's argument rested on the fact that their sound was an artificial creation, significantly different from the internal-combustion engines of their past models.

However, Porsche's ambitions faced a roadblock when the EUIPO rejected their trademark application. The grounds for rejection were primarily twofold: lack of distinctiveness and memorability. The EUIPO contended that the sound failed to stand out as a signature Porsche feature and was not memorable enough to enable consumers to distinguish Porsche vehicles from those of other manufacturers.

Sound Trademarks: The Unseen Branding Frontier

Sound trademarks, often overshadowed by their visual counterparts, have gained increasing significance in the realm of intellectual property. Just as logos, slogans, and brand colors are essential for building a brand's identity, distinctive sounds can play a pivotal role in establishing a unique brand presence in the market.

One of the most iconic examples of a sound trademark is the MGM Lion's roar, which instantly evokes the world of cinema. Another is Intel's five-note jingle, a sonic signature recognized globally. These examples demonstrate the power of sound to elicit strong emotional connections and associations with a brand.

In the automotive industry, sound trademarks have traditionally been associated with the audible identity of vehicles. Brands like Harley-Davidson and their distinctive V-twin engine rumble or the purr of a Jaguar's engine have become synonymous with the driving experience. The need for sound trademarks in the electric vehicle sector stems from safety concerns. Unlike their gasoline-powered counterparts, electric cars are exceptionally quiet, making them difficult for pedestrians, especially those with visual impairments, to detect. To address this, regulations have mandated the inclusion of artificial sounds to make electric vehicles more audible.

For automakers, this necessity presents an opportunity to create unique sound signatures that align with their brand identity. These sounds can become an integral part of the overall brand experience, allowing consumers to instantly recognize and connect with a specific automaker, even in the absence of the traditional engine noise.

Challenges in Registering Sound Trademarks

While the concept of sound trademarks is intriguing, their registration poses several challenges, as highlighted by Porsche's recent case

Subjectivity and Distinctiveness: Sound is inherently subjective, making it challenging to define and describe in legal terms. Unlike visual trademarks, which can be easily represented through images or colors, sounds are elusive and difficult to convey accurately. As seen in Porsche's case, this subjectivity can lead to differing interpretations by trademark authorities.

Consumer Recognition: Sound trademarks must be capable of prompting consumers to associate them with a particular brand or product. This requires not only the creation of a unique sound but also effective marketing and consumer education efforts to solidify that association.

International Variations: Different countries have varying standards and requirements for registering sound trademarks. This can lead to complexities when trying to establish a consistent global brand identity through sound.

Takeaway

As the automotive industry undergoes a transformative shift towards electric mobility, the importance of sound trademarks becomes increasingly evident. These auditory signatures not only serve as a safety feature but also offer a unique opportunity for automakers to craft memorable brand experiences. The case of Porsche's sound trademark serves as a reminder that innovation extends beyond the tangible elements of a car. It reaches into the realm of sensory experiences, where the auditory landscape of electric vehicles is just waiting to be explored, defined, and embraced. Whether the sound of acceleration is reminiscent of a roaring engine or an entirely new creation, it represents the evolution of a storied industry, adapting to a greener future while preserving its brand legacy. At the same time, due to this exciting novelty, establishing that sound is memorable and distinctive enough to serve as a trademark will remain a formidable challenge for brand owners.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder & CEO of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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