Get out the German translation dictionary because Ralf Hutter has met a machine where coexistence raises a pulsating legal condundrum. On Monday, the Kraftwerk co-founder and frontman filed a trademark infringement lawsuit against Dresden, Germany-based eZelleron, Inc., the maker of an energy supply unit for mobile electronic devices.
As the leader of electro-pop pioneers Kraftwerk, Hutter is arguably one of the most influential musicians living today. Long before Daft Punk and Deadmau5 were on the electronic dance scene, Hutter‘s outfit was combining classical minimalism with melodic pop to the groove of a robotic future. Albums like Trans-Europe Express, Man-Machine and Computer World are in the pantheon, leading to the group’s Grammy lifetime achievement award last year.
Meanwhile, eZelleron has been taking advantage of fuel cell technology to raise more than $1.5 million on Kickstarter for a portable power plant that it says can be recharged within seconds and provide weeks of charge for iPhones, tablets and GoPro cameras. Written up in many tech publications, the product is called “Kraftwerk.”
That doesn’t sit well with Hutter, who owns a trademark registration on “Kraftwerk” that covers quite a bit of territory. For example, he has video data and optical data in the field of music entertainment covered.
“Defendant is taking advance orders for the KRAFTWERK charging device,” states the complaint filed in Delaware federal court. “Therefore, consumers are likely to assume that there is a connection, association, or relationship between the famous electronic Music band and a charger for portable musical-playing devices.”
Here’s the potential systems error.
The German translation of “Kraftwerk” is “power station.”
That arguably makes it descriptive, meaning Hutter will have to show secondary meaning. Fortunately for him, most Americans don’t know German. But can Hutter get online service providers and fundraising platforms to remove references to eZelleron‘s Kraftwerk? That’s what he and his attorney, Jamie Edmonson at Venable, are demanding. Will that break the online machine? Cue the looped drum roll.