Over the past decades, trade mark law has undergone a process of propertization and thingification. Until the late 20th century, trade mark law was primarily conceived of as a special branch of unfair competition law that guaranteed undistorted competition by prohibiting certain confusing uses of a distinctive sign. This concept has been replaced by an abstract, transferable intellectual property right in trade marks, which also protects the investment in the mark.

In the lecture, Professor Peukert will explain this paradigm shift by reference to Karl Polanyi’s theory of the rise of the market economy in his ground-breaking book “The Great Transformation”. According to the first step of Polanyi’s argumentation, all input and output of a market economy has to be commodified and thus made subject to tradable property rights. This commodification is, however, a contingent political process. As Polanyi shows for human labor and natural resources, it is moreover fictitious and highly problematic because it even transforms life and nature into commodities. In his lecture, Professor Peukert will argue that these observations are also valid for human communication and thus signs as condensed elements of communication. In line with this, the recent history of EU trade mark law can be described in terms of a Polanyian process of dis-embedding commercial, trade mark-related communication from everyday communication. The lecture will conclude with references to Polanyian counter-movements in trade mark law that may even cast trade mark law back to where it started: a set of unfair competition rules.

A powerpoint from this seminar is available here.


Alexander Peukert is professor of civil law and commercial law with a specific focus on international intellectual property law at Goethe University Frankfurt am Main, Cluster of Excellence “The Formation of Normative Orders”. He studied law and obtained his Dr. iur. (s.c.l.) at the University of Freiburg (1993-1999). After his second state examination (2001), he practiced law in a Berlin law firm specializing in copyright and media law. From 2002 to 2009, he was senior research fellow and head of the U.S. department at the Max Planck Institute for Intellectual Property and Competition Law in Munich. In 2008, he was awarded the qualification of university lecturer (Habilitation) by Ludwig Maximilians University, Munich. He teaches international IP law at the universities of Strasbourg (Intellectual Property Law and Management), Lyon III (LL.M. International and European Business Law), and Alicante (LL.M. IP). His main research interest is in intellectual property and unfair competition law.


Each year the OIPRC hosts a number of leading academics from around the world as part of its Invited Speaker Series. These events typically run from 5:15-6:45pm on Thursday evenings at St. Peter’s College; if the venue or time is different, it will be noted on the Events calendar.  The Speaker Series consists of a presentation of about 45 minutes, followed by a Q&A session with the assembled group of academic staff, students (both undergraduate and graduate), researchers, and interested members of the public.  Discussion is informal and includes participants from several disciplines, with a wide range of prior knowledge.

Refreshments and snacks are served at the conclusion of the discussion.  All are welcome.
This year’s schedule evolves throughout the year, but a 2016 - 2017 listing is available here.