Margaret Marks of Transblawg has a post describing the attempt by Bremen lawyer Klaus Göken to file a patent application in Low German for “a sort of biodegradable mat for cattle to lie on,” which was to be called a Läägeünnerloage, the dialect form of what Margaret says would be Liegeunterlage (literally ‘lying-underlay’) in High German. The application was first rejected, even accompanied by a translation into High German, because “had the Lower German version been accepted, a precedent would have been set, leading to an unavoidable abundance of applications in other dialects and minority languages; this would make official procedures incomprehensible.” A second application in High German was accepted, and the term Läägeünnerloage is now a Gebrauchsmuster (translated as “utility model,” which seems awkward and uninformative; my German-English dictionary gives “protection of patterns and designs” for Gebrauchsmusterschutz, so I would think “(legally protected) pattern” would be a better term).

The most interesting feature of the case, to me, is the question of how far dialect can and should be legally accepted; the most charming thing about Margaret’s post is the following paragraph:

The item itself has been almost forgotten in all this language disputing. It is selling very well, creates warmth and there are 10% to 15% fewer deaths among piglets as a result.


  1. I must give more thought to the Gebrauchsmuster. I’ve never had to translate one. However, there has been discussion of creating a European Community utility model, which would therefore apply in the UK too, so this is probably a case of EU standardized terminology.
    Incidentally, did you see the Ladin (sort of Romansh?) site link at the end of the Sept. 2 entry on People’s Advocates? Just in case you’re interested.

  2. LH: The Leo online German-English dictionary gives a couple of other terms in English for Gebrauchsmuster: design patent, petty patent, registered design, and utility patent, as well asd utility model.
    MM: The Informazion dal mond Ladin is very interesting. I’d missed the link earlier.

  3. Any of those sounds better than “utility model” to me. But it’s doubtless, as MM suggests, a case of EU standardized terminology. Europa!

  4. Interesting. Here’s the Ladin website. Thanks.

  5. I think I’ve actually seen a tv report in the local news magazine about this mat a while ago, at least I remember a report about some kind of mat to make cows more comfortable, and I assume it was about the same thing. They didn’t mention any language stuff (or even patents) though, it was all about modern cattle barns. So the item itself didn’t go enitrely unnoticed.

  6. The exact Swedish cognate for “Liegeunterlage” – “liggunderlag” – is a common word and object: it is the kind of thin, non-inflatable mattress of a foamy plastic kind, used under your sleeping bag during hiking trips in the wilderness.

  7. Here‘s a definition at the UK Patent Office.

    [“A utility model is a registered right which confers on its proprietor exclusive protection for an invention.” –LH]

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