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Work, Identity, and the Regulation of Markets: A Study of Trademark Law in the United States and Germany

  • Katya Assaf-Zakharov and Lisa Herzog


This article considers how legal systems capture different cultural perceptions of work in an individual’s life. We inquire how two models—“human capital,” based on the works of Adam Smith; and “vocation,” based on the works of G. W. F. Hegel—are reflected in legal regulations and judicial rhetoric in the United States and Germany. Specifically, we examine how these two legal systems treat the practice of using personal names—the most direct referents to individuals’ identities—in business. We discuss three sets of cases: cases involving the use of personal names as trademarks, cases involving conflicts between parties with similar names, and cases involving the transfer of rights in personal names. The article demonstrates that the US legal system treats work as a commercial asset, as “human capital” in Smith’s sense, whereas German law perceives work as an integral part of one’s identity, echoing the Hegelian line of “vocation.”

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The authors would like to thank Daphna Lewinsohn-Zamir and four reviewers of Law & Social Inquiry for very valuable comments and suggestions.



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Reichsgericht (RG)—The Supreme Court of the German Empire (before 1945)
RG 21.12.1880, RGZ 3, 69 [RG 1880].
RG 22.09.1899, RZG 44, 71– Viktoria [RG 1899].
RG 24.2.1925, RGZ 110, 234– Malzmann [RG 1925a].
RG 15.10.1925, RGZ 111, 69– Arnheim [RG 1925b].
RG Jw. 1926, 1326 [RG 1926a].
RG MuW 1926, 42 [RG 1926b].
RG 22.02.1927, RGZ 116, 209– Stollwerk [RG 1927].
RG GRUR 1928, 657, 660– Weber [RG 1928].
RG GRUR 1940, 358 [RG 1940].
RG GRUR 1941, 110 [RG 1941a].
RG MuW 1941, 47– Knipping [RG 1941b].
RG 30.09.1943, DR 1944, 249 [RG 1944a].
RG GRUR 1944, 38– W. C. & Co. GmbH [RG 1944b].
Bundesgerichtshof (BGH)—The Supreme Court of Germany (after 1945)
BGH GRUR 1951, 410– Luppy [BGH 1951].
BGH GRUR 1952, 511– Farina Urkölsch [BGH 1952].
BGH 27.01.1953, I ZR 55/52– Hoch- und Tiefbau [BGH 1953].
BGH GRUR 1957, 342– Underberg [BGH 1957a].
BGH 25.10.1957, I ZR 136/56– Wyeth [BGH 1957b].
BGH GRUR 1958, 143– Schwardmann [BGH 1958a].
BGH GRUR 1958, 185 [BGH 1958b].
BGH GRUR 1960, 33– Zamek [BGH 1960].
BGH 1966, 623– Kupferberg [BGH 1966].
BGH GRUR 1967, 89– Rose [BGH 1967].
BGH GRUR 1968, 212– Hellige [BGH 1968].
BGH 19.05.1976, I ZR 81/75– Kyffhäuser [BGH 1976].
BGH GRUR 1979, 642– Billich [BGH 1979].
BGH 03.07.1986, I ZR 77/85– Stoll [BGH 1986].
BGH GRUR 1987, 128– Nena [BGH 1987a].
BGH GRUR 1987, 182 [BGH 1987b].
BGH NJW-RR 1988, 95 [BGH 1988].
BGH NJW-RR 1990, 618 [BGH 1990a].
BGH 24.10.1990, XII ZR 112/89– Johanniter-Bier [BGH 1990b].
BGH 22.11.1990, I ZR 14/89– Ott International [BGH 1990c].
BGH GRUR 1991, 157 [BGH 1991a].
BGH GRUR 1991, 393 [BGH 1991b].
BGH GRUR 1991, 472– Germania [BGH 1991c].
BGH 01.04.1993, I ZR 85/91– Römer GmbH [BGH 1993a].
BGH GRUR 1993, 579 [BGH 1993b].
BGH GRUR 1995, 507– City-Hotel [BGH 1995a].
BGH GRUR 1995, 825– Torres Fezer [BGH 1995b].
BGH GRUR 1996, 422– J. C. Winter [BGH 1996].
BGH 02.10.1997, I ZR 105/95– “Dr. St. … Nachf.” [BGH 1997].
GRUR 2000, 709– Marlene Dietrich [BGH 2000].
BGH GRUR 2002, 703– Vossius & Partner [BGH 2002].
BGH GRUR 2008, 801– Hansen-Bau [BGH 2008].
District Courts
OLG Köln 29.04.1983 6 U 201/82– Tina Farina [OLG Köln 1983].
OLG Köln, 24.10.1986, 6 U 52/86– Rothschild [OLG Köln 1986].
OLG Karlsruhe, GRUR 1989, 270– Heinkel [OLG Karlsruhe 1989].
OLG Saarbrücken, NJWE-WettbR 1999, 284– H&K GmbH [OLG Saarbrücken 1999].
Bundespatentgericht (BPatG)—Federal Patents and Trademarks Office
BPatG 03.04.2000, BPatGE 42, 275– Franz Marc [BPatG 2000].
BPatG 01.12.2004, 32 W(pat) 388/02– Rainer Werner Fassbinder [BPatG 2004].
BPatG GRUR 2006, 591– GeorgSimon Ohm [BPatG 2006].
BPatG GRUR 2008, 522– Percy Stuart [BPatG 2008a].
BPatG BeckRS 2008, 5314– Maya Plisetskaya [BPatG 2008b].
BPatG 29.10.2013, 27 W (pat) 72/12– Luciano [BPatG 2013].
BPatG GRUR-RR 2014, 286– August-Macke-Haus [BPatG 2014].
Das Gesetz zum Schutz der Waarenbezeichnungen (1894).
Das Markengesetz (1994).
Das Reichsmarkenschutzgesetz (1874).
German Civil Code (1900).
German Commercial Code (1900).
The Lanham Act, 15 U.S.C.A. §§ 1052, 1127.

Work, Identity, and the Regulation of Markets: A Study of Trademark Law in the United States and Germany

  • Katya Assaf-Zakharov and Lisa Herzog


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