1957: The Carl Zeiss Trademark Awarded to West German Zeiss

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The Postwar History of Zeiss


Immediately at the end of World War II in 1945 the Russians confiscated about 93% of all Zeiss machinery in their Zone of Occupation and transported it to Russia. This seizure included the extensive Jena Zeiss works. Zeiss began to rebuild and re-tool and commence manufacturing of cameras and lenses. This was an urgent effort of German national priority since Zeiss had always been the largest exporter of valuable goods from Germany and was it's biggest earner of hard currency that was badly needed to finance the reconstruction of Germany. Political developments intruded with the temporary partition of Germany gradually becoming permanent. Immediately as the fact the occupation was going to become permanent became understood by key Zeiss executive personnel they traveled to U.S. Occupied Germany and established the Zeiss Foundation, the governing body for all Zeiss activities, under the jurisdiction of law in the U.S. Occupied Zone of Germany. This is when the Zeiss works at Oberkochen were first established. This brought into being two entities competing for the right to use the very valuable "Carl Zeiss" trademark on the optical goods manufactured in the Russian occupied Zone and the U.S. Occupied Zones of Germany. In short time the Zeiss entity in the Russian Occupied Zone (East Germany later the DDR) became a wholly state owned company controlled by the government and the Zeiss Foundation in the U.S. Occupied Zone (West Germany) became largely what it had been before the war, a privately owned and operated corporation operating under West German law. The issue of who would own and and control the extremely valuable "Carl Zeiss" trademark was fiercely contested. Immediately after the war all goods produced in the few remaining Zeiss factories that were capable of producing cameras or lenses had the "Carl Zeiss" trademark. When the Zeiss foundation was established in the U.S. Zone of Occupation the Zeiss factories there initially produced goods using the "Zeiss-Opton" trademark. The goods manufactured in East Germany were marked "Carl Zeiss" and were sold in the U.S. until 1956. At this time the U.S. awarded the "Carl Zeiss" trademark to the Zeiss Foundation in West Germany. The U.S. had the right to do this because it had seized the Carl Zeiss trademark as a prize of war. Zeiss in East Germany had established a company called Ercona to market and export cameras with the Carl Zeiss trademark to the USA and other western countries in 1946. This company continued to operate and its cameras were accepted by U.S. customs for sale in the USA until 1956 when the Carl Zeiss trademark was awarded to the Zeiss Foundation in West Germany. The Ercona Company sued the U.S. Government in the U.S. courts seeking to overturn the awarding of the Carl Zeiss trademark to the West German Zeiss Foundation. They lost, filed an appeal and this is a summary of the decision of the appeal confirming the award of the Carl Zeiss trademark to the West German Zeiss foundation. Following this the Zeiss entity in East Germany refused to live to the letter of this court decision and began to use the "Carl Zeiss Jena" trademark. This was the end of the Ercona Company.


246 F.2d 675 (1957) ERCONA CAMERA CORPORATION and Steelmasters, Incorporated, Appellants, v. Herbert BROWNELL, Jr., Attorney General, George M. Humphrey, Secretary of the Treasury, and Ralph Kelly, Commissioner of Customs, Appellees. United States Court of Appeals District of Columbia Circuit.

Argued March 13, 1957.

Decided May 16, 1957.

Mr. Harry I. Rand, Washington, D. C., for appellants. Mr. George B. Searls, Atty., Dept. of Justice, with whom Miss Marbeth Ann Miller, Atty., Dept. of Justice, was on the brief, for appellees. Before EDGERTON, Chief Judge, and PRETTYMAN and WASHINGTON, Circuit Judges. PER CURIAM.

Plaintiffs-appellants were in the business of importing cameras and similar articles from East Germany bearing the trademark "Zeiss." The Attorney General of the United States, claiming ownership of this trademark as seized enemy property, invoked the provisions of 19 U.S.C.A. § 1526, making it "unlawful to import into the United States" merchandise bearing a trademark owned in the United States, without the written consent of the owner of the trademark. Plaintiffs brought suit in the District Court against the Attorney General, the Secretary of the Treasury, and the Commissioner of Customs for a decree declaring that the Attorney General has no right to the exclusive use of the trademark, and enjoining the defendants from interfering with plaintiffs' importation of the goods in question. Plaintiffs moved for summary judgment and for a preliminary injunction. Both were denied, and plaintiffs appealed. As to the denial of the summary judgment, which was ordered by the District Court without specification of its reasons, the Government moved in this court to dismiss the appeal. That motion will be granted. See Division 689 v. Capital Transit Co., 1955, 97 U.S.App. D.C. 4. As to appellants' appeal from the denial of their motion for a preliminary injunction, we are of the opinion that the ruling of the District Court was a proper exercise of its discretion, and accordingly affirm. We do not reach the merits of the case, and intimate no view about them. So ordered,

FootNotes 1.

As in the case cited, "there is nothing in the record to indicate that the equity powers of the District Court were invoked on the motion for summary judgment." 97 U.S.App.D.C. at pages 4-5, 227 F.2d at pages 19-20 (concurring opinion). In fact, appellants' motions for summary judgment and preliminary injunction were filed separately and were denied on different days. "At least without a clear showing that the court considered the merits of a plea to its equitable jurisdiction, the denial of summary judgment cannot be deemed an `interlocutory order * * * refusing' an injunction within § 1292(1) [of title 28 U.S.C.]." Ibid.

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