Deutsche Telekom tries to corner the market in letter T


Media & Marketing: Today's piece of silly season business news is brought to you by the letter T and Deutsche Telekom. Derek Scally reports.

The German telecom is at the centre of a legal row that sounds like a surreal Sesame Street spin-off: a legal battle to determine who owns the trademark rights to the 20th letter of the alphabet.

Deutsche Telekom has spent millions in recent years branding its products and services with its favourite letter, from T-Mobile, its mobile phone division, to T-Online, the internet company. In recent years it even registered internet addresses like (for tee-beutel or tea bag), to protect itself against so-called cyber sitters.

Now Telekom has ordered Team-Konzept, an IT advertising agency in Berlin, to change its logo, a white T on a red background, or face legal action.

Telekom felt it was too similar to its own magenta T logo and presented a confusing conflict of interest with T-Systems, its IT subsidiary.

Last month, a Cologne court found in favour of Team-Konzept, ruling there was no similarity between the two logos.

But now Telekom has taken on a so-called "precedent case", to decide whether or not Telekom has exclusive rights to the letter T in the world of German advertising.

The court has suggested a survey to see whether the German people really associate the letter T with Deutsche Telekom.

Team-Konzept, a small company founded in 1994, has begun fundraising: if the company loses the court case it faces a €30,000 bill for the survey and a fine of up to €500,000 as well as court costs.

"We are hoping to create so much publicity that Telekom will come to its senses," said Mr Michael Steinke of Team-Konzept.

"This is about a company trying to take a letter of the alphabet hostage, but it's also about a large company trying to use the cost of court battles to bully smaller companies."

Telekom is optimistic it will win this trademark tussle. "We pursue very forward-looking brand policies and therefore have to pay strict attention that T only stands for Deutsche Telekom and its products," said Mr Stephan Althoff, head of Deutsche Telekom's branding and advertising department.

Telekom has a mixed record in trademark cases: it lost two cases against companies careless enough to use magenta in their advertising.

FreshAer affair

Despite an aviation regulator's warning last weekend to consumers that the new UK-based airline, FreshAer, is selling tickets illegally, the Advertising Standards Authority for Ireland has so far taken no action to stop the company's high-profile promotion campaign in the national media.Gretchen Friemann reports.

Yesterday the ASAI, a self-regulatory body for the advertising industry, said it had received a letter of complaint about the legality of FreshAer's advertising from one of the new carrier's competitors. But the organisation claimed it could not censor the airline's advertising campaign until it received official notice of the company's legal status.

Mr Ed McCumiskey, ASAI's chief executive, said: "Clearly if the company does not have a right to sell its product, then it is not legally allowed to advertise. The decision as to whether a business is legal or not is made by the relevant regulatory body. We have to satisfy the underlying legal position."

However, the Commission for Airline Regulation (CAR) unambiguously described FreshAer's legal trading status last Friday when it published a public notice on its website warning consumers that the new airline "was acting in contravention of the Irish Travel Trade legislation" because the company was not licenced by CAR.

Mr McCumiskey said the ASAI would pass on the complaint it had received about FreshAer's advertising to the Irish Aviation Authority (IAA), which has no jurisdiction over the carrier's trading status.

Taking into account the length of time this diversion may add on to the minimum 10 to 14 days usually required to resolve an advertising dispute, befuddled consumers can expect FreshAer's "book now" promotion in the Evening Herald to continue for some time yet.

In fact, it appears the carrier, which is marketed as the new "all the frills, low-cost airline" will escape punitive action from both the aviation and advertising authorities.

Mr Cathal Guiomard, deputy commissioner of CAR, said that "both parties have now agreed a way forward" and that although it could have fined or prosecuted the airline, the commission was now satisfied that the company intended to register for the requisite airline and tour operator's licences.

Radio waves

A vicious row over editorial independence has erupted between journalists and board members at the embattled Radio Kilkenny, which lost its licence last year and is due to go off air at the end of next month. Gretchen Friemann reports.

The National Union of Journalists yesterday claimed it had lodged a complaint with the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland (BCI) following a decision by the station's board on Tuesday evening to vet any stories on the failed licence application.

Mr Seamus Dooley, secretary of the NUJ in the Republic, has accused Mr Joe Reidy, chairman of the board of Radio Kilkenny and a Fianna Fáil councillor, of "interfering with the editorial independence of journalists working at the station".

"For the board to decide that a designated member drawn from their ranks should act as official censor is outrageous. If the board wishes to use funds to legally challenge the decision of the BCI, that is a legitimate news story but the board itself cannot dictate how the decision is reported," said Mr Dooley.

"The board has no right to prevent journalists from broadcasting dissenting views on that decision - including the views of listeners and trade union representatives."

Mr Reidy said the station was engaged in "a sensitive legal case", which might be affected by the reporting of the story.

He argued the board has not forbidden journalists from airing reports on the failed licence application or the station's subsequent court appeal, but has asked journalists to "clear any such coverage with the chairperson of the supervisory committee, which is responsible for the day-to-day running of the station."

Asked if it was normal practice for journalists to discuss possible stories with a management figure, Mr Reidy replied that it was.

Since the decision by the BCI last year to award the new Carlow/Kilkenny licence to rival bidder KCLR, trading as CK Broadcasting, journalists claim the board has used the station to wage a propaganda war against the BCI and the winning applicant.

A "Save Our Voice" campaign, which broadcasts soundbites of local Kilkenny listeners angry at the BCI decision, is reportedly aired twice every hour.

The board's decision to monitor the licence stories followed interviews with the chief executive of KCLR and the former chairman of the board on the popular Tuesday morning Kilkenny Agenda programme, when both criticised the licence application submitted by Radio Kilkenny's board.

Mr Reidy denied the broadcast had influenced the board's decision, which he said was taken in a "routine monthly meeting".

Last week Radio Kilkenny lost its High Court bid to view confidential documents used by the BCI's in the awarding of the Carlow/Kilkenny commercial radio licence.

It now has 21 days to appeal the decision to the Supreme Court.