‘Galileo’ brand thrown out of orbit


The trademarks of the Galileo satellite system are under sustained legal challenge from a US headquartered company and the Commission is considering renaming the project’s commercial arms as a result, EURACTIV has learned.

The issue highlights ongoing project management difficulties with the global navigation satellite system (GNSS) which launched its first two satellites from French Guyana last week.

Galileo International Technology – whose parent company, Travelport is registered in Atlanta, Georgia – operates in the field of air travel reservation and has twice challenged the name before the European Court of Justice against the Commission and lost.

More recently the company has lost another action against a Spanish Galileo subsidiary – Galileo Sistemas y Servicios – in the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg.

Cases under way ‘all across Europe’

Nevertheless there appear to be many ongoing challenges to the trade mark. In relation to the Spanish case, a source with close knowledge of the cases told EURACTIV: “This was purely a question relating to the registrability of one trade mark, it is not a question that addresses anything to do with use or any variations of that mark.”

The source said that there remain a number of live challenges to companies affiliated to the Galileo project “all across Europe, there are different parties, different issues against the Galileo trademark.”

The Commission has resisted the challenges on the basis that the rival company operates mainly in the area of computer programmes relating to air transport, rather than navigation satellite systems.

EURACTIV understands that the Commission has been advised by those close to the project that it has three options for proceeding: ditching the umbrella name Galileo and renaming the entire Galileo scheme; creating new trade marks for the commercial applications of Galileo; or fighting or negotiating the cases with Galileo International.

EU wants to keep name of famous European

A spokesman for the Commission said that there was no doubt that the preferred option would be to keep the name Galileo for all the activities, but acknowledged that “finding names for the five [commercial] services under a Galileo umbrella programme, is indeed an option under consideration.”

“The Commission is extremely reluctant to renounce the name of one of its most famous European citizens at the behest of a US company,” an EU source said.

If the Commission intends to change the trade marks under which Galileo will trade commercially, this will need to be done well before the commercial applications come on-stream in 2014.

However sources working close to the project said that the issue should be resolved as quickly as possible, in order to create goodwill in any new names.

One source close to the operation of Galileo said that the issue highlighted how intellectual property issues such as trade marks and licences have become more significant as the project developed. The source said that the management of the project had been less commercially focused whilst it was managed from the Commission's transport and energy directorates, but that this had improved markedly since its transfer last year to the enterprise directorate.

“It is now being run much more from an industrial policy angle,” the source added.

The Galileo project was originally intended to be operational in 2008 at a total cost of €3.4 billions. As with most large public projects the date and cost have slipped: to 2014 and an estimated €7 billion respectively.

“The EU executive believes that its legal arguments are strong,” according to an EU source, who added: “A European Court of First Instance judgment dated 10 May 2006 slammed the US company for taking their inspiration from “one of the great names in European culture and scientific history”, without imagining that others might do the same. The judge in that case said that the fact that US Space Administration NASA had chosen the word ‘Galileo’ in 1989 for the launch of an observation satellite to the planet Jupiter, showed that it was liable to be used.”

The source concluded however: “Officials close to the project are known to want clarity about the trade mark, especially those that will be used for commercial applications, however, and the case is extremely complicated and protracted, so sooner or later a decision will have to be made.”

The Galileo programme started in the 90s when the European Space Agency (ESA) initiated research and development projects in the field of satellite navigation systems. This followed the US launch of the Global Positioning System (GPS) in 1978.

At the end of the 90s, Europe launched negotiations to equip itself with its own satellite navigation system. Initially, Galileo was supposed to be an intergovernmental project.

Later, the private sector was involved in its development but lack of secure revenues and mounting costs pushed private companies to withdraw from the programme. In 2008 the EU institutions agreed to develop Galileo exclusively with EU funding.

Last June, the European Commission proposed to maintain Galileo within the framework of the next EU long-term budget for the period 2014-2020 with a total allocation of €7 billion, that is €1 billion a year until the end of the decade. Negotiations on the overall adoption of the proposed next financial perspectives are ongoing.

Subscribe to our newsletters