UPDATED on 4/3/2012
Can the phrase “passive house” be trademarked? If the answer is yes, has any organization claimed the trademark yet?
I decided to research these questions after I noticed a comment posted by Nils Davis on the Web site of the Silicon Valley Passive Building Coalition: “Passive House is a trademark of the Passive House Institute U.S.” That sentence made me sit up and pay attention — after all, if the phrase “passive house” is trademarked, it might be hard for builders of traditional passive solar homes to use the phrase in their marketing materials.
I e-mailed Davis for more information. He responded, “At the time I wrote that I had been informed by Katrin Klingenberg (in a March 2009 e-mail) that the PHIUS had applied for trademark protection for Passive House and several associated terms.”
A rush to the trademark office
Clearly, interest in trademarks is heating up in the Passivhaus community. The following advice was posted by C.A. Snyder on the Web site of the Michigan Energy Efficiency Network: “If you are interested in what Certified Passive Houses offer, protect your interests by looking for the trademarked logo and phrase ‘Certified Passive House.’ ”
The Web site of a Wisconsin newspaper, the Hudson Star-Observer, reported that “The term passive house is the trademark name for a type of German-engineered building that is so well-insulated and air-tight it is warmed mostly by the sun.”
Someone posting on an Irish energy-advice Web site claimed that “‘Passive House’ is a trademark held by the Passivhaus Institute of Darmstadt, Germany.” Hmm, I wondered — could that be true? Does anyone own the phrase “passive house”?
What does the U.S. Trademark Office say?
Although it’s hard to do a thorough trademark search without investing a fair amount of money, it’s possible to do a preliminary search at a Web site maintained by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. According to my research:
- Wolfgang Feist has trademarked the phrase “Passive House Institute.”
- Wolfgang Feist has trademarked the initials “PHPP.”
- Katrin Klingenberg and Mike Kernagis filed papers to trademark the phrase “Certified Passive House.”
- Katrin Klingenberg and Mike Kernagis filed papers to trademark the phrase “Passive House Institute U.S.”
- Katrin Klingenberg has trademarked the phrase “Passivhaus Bau.”
To the best of my knowledge, no one has yet succeeded in obtaining a trademark on the word “Passivhaus” or the phrase “passive house.”
(Update: On April 2, 2012, when she was in the midst of a debate over whether PHIUS has the right to redefine the Passivhaus standard, Katrin Klingenberg clarified her position: “The term passive house was coined in the U.S. and Canada in the ’70s,” wrote Klingenberg in a comment posted on the Inhabit website. “It has been used in the building science discourse ever since. It is solidly in the public domain and describes a building science principle free for everyone to use.”)
The bottom line
Until a lawyer steps forward to contradict me, I think it’s safe to say that it is perfectly legal for builders of traditional passive solar homes to continue using the phrase “passive house” in their marketing materials. That’s reassuring.
I’m guessing that any future efforts to trademark the phrase “passive house” will prove difficult, since the phrase was in widespread use for years before the Passivhaus Institut was founded in Germany.
Last week’s blog: “A New Way to Duct HRVs.”