Young Targets Backs Down After Hackathon Trademark Backlash

By David Knight |

The company which trademarked ‘hackathon’ in Germany has backed down and promised to give up it rights to the term after a stormy backlash over its plans to license it. The registration of the word was highlighted on Friday in a Facebook post and on HackerNews, and the Berlin tech community was quick to express its outrage.

And even though Young Targets, a part of the Nachtausgabe company which registered the trademark, sent Hanover-based startup (maker of doctape) a demand for €2,500 for calling an event in January a ‘hackathon’, it has since performed a U-turn and insisted that it will not charge for licenses, and will even scrap the trademark altogether.

It may seem incredible that a word as generic as ‘hackathon’ can be trademarked, but in Germany, it would be deemed as an ‘artificial’ word and can thus be termed a brand, no matter if it is in common use.

Lutz Leichsenring, managing director of Nachtausgabe, told Silicon Allee that the company initially decided to do just that with hackathon largely to ensure that it wouldn’t be abused by large corporations. He also insisted that Young Targets was never going to ask “non-commercial” hackathons for money and emphasized that he and his team wanted to talk to the community to figure out the best way of using the brand – and that they were willing to give up the trademark if that was the general consensus.

A message on the Young Targets website on Tuesday promised just that: “There will be no license fees for the use of the trademark “hackathon” in Germany.”

‘We Will Delete the Trademark’

It added: “The attempt to take revenue for non-commercial purposes on a licensing model failed.” They had wanted to finance the creation and development of their platform by license fees. “We are aware that we have thereby made us vulnerable,” the statement added, “because you could assume, that we did this for a different cause.

“Thats why we will delete the trademark “hackathon”. 10 companies that have been asked to license, have been informed that we take distance from plans to charge royalties. (sic)”

Earlier, Leichsenring described how, upon organising a hackathon in Karlsruhe last year, the Young Targets team became worried that, with sponsorship increasingly difficult to find for such events, larger companies were able to get a lot out of them in terms of credibility without having to put too much in. This led them to trying to create a body to centralise the organisation of hackathons, including doing deals with corporate sponsors, caterers etc. Large companies which wanted to run hackathons themselves would have to buy licenses, with the money raised helping to fund non-commercial projects.

Having applied to register the trademark, enthusiasm for the project dwindled, and it was only when the patent office in Germany contacted them earlier this year to tell them they had been successful that they started working on it again.

‘This is an Experimental Thing’

Before the decision to delete the trademark, Leichsenring had revealed that they were in talks with 20 large companies with a view to bringing in enough sponsorship for one or two hackathons to provide funding to set up a Verein, or non-profit association, to control the brand. He said: “I understand that this is an experimental thing and maybe it’s bad because people think it [the use of ‘hackathon’] should be free[ly available]; commercial or non-commercial, it doesn’t matter. And there are some questions which are still open – [for example] how do you tell the difference between commercial and non-comercial [hackathons]? These are not questions we wanted to answer [alone], we want to talk with people, with the community, to find out what they think.” If it had been their intention to charge everyone for the use of ‘hackathon’, he argued, they could have been doing it for a couple of months.

Leichsenring also insisted that Young Targets was open to giving up the ‘hackathon’ trademark, but he didn’t want to do so only to see someone unscrupulous pick it up: “We have to figure out if this is a good idea. … There are specialised companies which look [to see] which brands get lost or lose protection and they grab the brands pretty fast.”

For example, they had written to the Chaos Computer Club and asked if they wanted the trademark to be transferred to them.

Yet the insistence that they had never planned to charge for licenses for non-commercial hackathon events rings a little hollow give doctape‘s experience. The company was sent a contract which would force them to cough up €2,500 for the January event despite the fact it was free to attend, according to co-founder and CCO Ricardo Ferrer Rivero. He told Silicon Allee they had seen the news about the trademark on HackerNews last week and had tweeted about it, only to receive a letter and contract on Tuesday. “We were a bit shocked and confused,” he said, “because it was completely different to what they were saying on their website.” They talked to their lawyer and began planning an official complaint – either alone or jointly with other startups – to the Deutsches Patent- und Markenamt (DPMA), the body responsible for patents in Germany. But then came an email from Young Targets telling them to ignore the demand.

A Negative Reaction

Ricardo added: “I think it’s a bit naive to think that they weren’t doing it with commercial purposes [in mind]. To register a brand costs already; it’s not a lot but it’s €300 at least to register a name and it makes absolutely no sense to register things if you don’t want to make a profit out of it or protect your own brand. … Hackathons are usually for free, so their official position to license the term for paid events is not an actual business model [that would work].”

Elsewhere, reaction in Berlin to the trademark grab had been largely negative. A post in the Berlin Startups group on Friday highlighting the situation attracted more than 100 comments, and a separate public group for ‘exchange around the deletion of the trademark hackathon” was set up.

Some of the comments on the original post included:

“blunt ignorance!”


“Ya, you can’t blame these guys for being entrepreneurial … That was sarcastic BTW.”

Addressed to Leichsenring:

“and what makes you think that is yours to decide what people consider a hackathon or not?”

“that’s completely ridiculous – it’s fine to say that your intentions are good, but NOBODY should trademark the word hackathon, it’s plain wrong!, and I hope somebody blocks you!”

And the indignation continued apace over the weekend and early this week. Speaking before Young Targets’ apparent U-turn, Hermann Frank, co-founder of Views, told Silicon Allee: “It’s embarrassing for the community because it bears the risk that developers who would like to come to Berlin or participate in hackathons in Berlin will search for them online, but organisers will not be able to advertise them as hackathons – the internationally recognised term – due to the trademark. People outside of Germany will think there is nothing going on here; it will harm the community by preventing it from coming together. I hope they will step back from this and reverse the trademark.

“It again shows that Germany is more about rules and regulations rather than innovation and collaboration.”

Young Targets has signaled its intention to talk with the tech community at upcoming Barcamps and to work on a legal agreement with the Bundesverband Deutsche Startups e.V. , a not-for-profit body dedicated to supporting startups in Germany, to find a solution as to what exactly will happen to the trademark. A statement is expected from the BVDS on Wednesday.