The End of a Legal Battle over Traffic Lights

If there was one thing everyone could agree on about East German socialism, it was that world peace could only be assured after the inevitable victory of international socialism, when all peoples would unite as brothers under the banner of understanding among peoples.

AmpelmaennchenThat and the traffic lights. They were fuckin’ adorable, especially the green "walk" signal. OK, his outstretched arm is much too long for his body and seems to be deformed into a hideous, fingerless club. But he’s striding so zestily into the glorious Socialist future that you just can’t help adoring him, and the hat and the shoes are sharp, in all senses of the word. (The red "stop" signal looks a little bit too cruciform/mummy-like for my tastes, but is still very popular, especially as a keychain).

Two German business titans each claimed to have the rights to use the image of the Ampelmaennchen ("little traffic-light men"). In this corner, Markus Heckhausen, a Berlin designer with roots in West Germany. He trademarked the figures in 2003, and plans to use them on a wide range of consumer knickknacks. In the other corner, Joachim Roßberg, an East German engineer who used to be in charge of producing East Germany’s traffic lights, and who claimed to have already registered the figures in 1997.

A complex, wearisome legal battle (there are no other kinds) ensued, and, of course, the West German interloper won (G). The poor East German engineer had 13 of his 15 registered trademarks cancelled, and is now only allowed to use the Ampelmaennchen to sell alcohol, of all things.

Don’t feel too sorry for the Ossie person from the new federal states, though. As he saw that the ship of his legal case was about to smash against the rocks of German jurisprudence, he tried a desperate ‘Hail Mary.’ (according to the Spiegel article linked above): He claimed he wasn’t even a party to the lawsuit, since it was actually his son, also named Joachim Roßberg, who actually owned the rights to the images. Problem was, if that were the case, the son obtained the rights when he was nine, and was director of a company when he was twelve. The judges have referred Roßberg Senior to the local District Attorney.

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