Press release

Legal dispute over V-shaped guitars: Meissner Bolte succeeds for Warwick before the German Federal Supreme Court

Oliver Nilgen,  Lawyer , Munich
Dr. Stefan M. Zech Dr. Stefan M. Zech,  Patent Attorney, Dipl.-Phys., LL.M.

Munich, 23 September 2021 - In the legal dispute over the sale of V-shaped electric guitars, Meissner Bolte has achieved a victory for guitar manufacturer Warwick. On 22 September 2021, the Federal Supreme Court dismissed the appeal of US manufacturer Gibson against a judgement of the Hamburg Higher Regional Court (I ZR 192/20). As a result, it is now decided in the last instance that Gibson's plagiarism allegations against Warwick were unfounded from the beginning, and Gibson cannot assert any claims under the German Unfair Competition Act (UWG) against the V-guitar created by Warwick about seven years ago.

The proceedings were based on a lawsuit filed by the US guitar manufacturer Gibson. In 1958, Gibson launched the "Flying V", the first guitar with a V-shaped body. The model became famous through musicians such as Jimi Hendrix, Lenny Kravitz and the German band Scorpions.

In 2014, Gibson filed a lawsuit against the German guitar manufacturer Warwick, that sold a V-shaped guitar approximated in shape under the "Framus" brand. Gibson objected to the imitation of its products and demanded a sales stop arguing that customers were being misled about the origin of the guitar, and Warwick was unfairly exploiting the reputation of the Gibson guitars.

In July 2017, the Hamburg Regional Court decided in favour of Gibson. The Higher Regional Court overturned this decision in November 2020 (Case No. 15 U 86/19) stating that despite a subsequent adoption of design elements, Warwick had not acted unfairly. In spite of the same shape, the brand and the manufacturer's reference could be clearly recognised. Potential buyers could distinguish the guitars and were therefore not misled about the origin of the instruments from different manufacturers. The Higher Regional Court did not see any unfair exploitation of reputation as both guitars were high-quality, high-priced models and Warwick therefore did not participate in the good reputation of the Gibson variant.

"With this ruling, the Federal Supreme Court once again clarifies that the Unfair Competition Act does not grant absolute product protection, but there need to be additional unfairness features," says Dr Stefan Zech, partner with Meissner Bolte in Munich. "We are pleased that after the Higher Regional Court, also the Federal Supreme Court has followed our arguments and confirmed that there is no unfairness in the case of Warwick's V-Guitar."

Warwick was advised by Meissner Bolte partners Oliver Nilgen and Dr Stefan Zech. Prof Dr Christian Rohnke of Rohnke Winter represented the company before the Federal Supreme Court.