„Fachmann“ vs. „Fachperson“ – Isn’t it time to use gender-neutral language?

by Dr. Sabine Koch | 06. July 2022 | Know-How

In the era of gender-neutral language, Germany’s patent community faces a problem unique to the German language: The term “person skilled in the art” which poses no linguistic problem at all in the English speaking world has had its equivalent in the “Fachmann” (“skilled man”) for decades.

In the German Patent Act, the term “Fachmann” is used prominently in Section 4 of the Patent Act to define inventiveness. Notably, this wording has not been changed in the amendment due to the Second Act of the Simplification and Modernisation of German Patent Law (“2. PatModG”) which entered into force on August 18, 2021.

Also the Guidelines for Examination of the EPO (G-VII, 3.) define the “Fachmann” in the German version, while the English version reads “Person skilled in the art”.

For many German native speakers, the gender-neutral term “Fachperson” sounds artificial, unfamiliar, and somehow awkward. Consequently, most attorneys and judges still use the term “Fachmann”.

But what might be the reasons for changing to a gender-neutral wording?

The European Parliament has issued Guidelines for “Gender-neutral language in the European parliament” (2018) wherein it gives on page 3 the following definition of gender neutrality in language:

“Gender-neutral language is a generic term covering the use of non-sexist language, inclusive language or gender-fair language. The purpose of gender-neutral language is to avoid word choices which may be interpreted as biased, discriminatory or demeaning by implying that one sex or social gender is the norm. Using gender-fair and inclusive language also helps reduce gender stereotyping, promotes social change and contributes to achieving gender equality.


Gender-neutral or gender-inclusive language is more than a matter of political correctness. Language powerfully reflects and influences attitudes, behaviour and perceptions. In order to treat all genders equally, efforts have been employed since the 1980s to propose a gender-neutral/gender-fair/non-sexist use of language, so that no gender is privileged, and prejudices against any gender are not perpetuated.


As part of those efforts, over the last decade, numerous guidelines have been developed and implemented at international and national level. International and European institutions (such as the United Nations, the World Health Organisation, the International Labour Organisation, the European Parliament and the European Commission), professional associations, universities, major news agencies and publications have adopted guidelines for the non-sexist use of language, either as separate documents or as specific recommendations included in their style guides. In the European Union, many Member States have also debated language policies and proposed such guidelines at various levels.”

In short, attempting to establish a gender-neutral language contributes to a European effort to overcome gender stereotypes.

Or, as the United Nation’s website puts it:

“Using gender-inclusive language means speaking and writing in a way that does not discriminate against a particular sex, social gender or gender identity, and does not perpetuate gender stereotypes. Given the key role of language in shaping cultural and social attitudes, using gender-inclusive language is a powerful way to promote gender equality and eradicate gender bias.”

As the person skilled in the art is a mere legal concept, it is not apparent why it should have a gender at all. Thus, despite being unfamiliar, it seems “Fachperson” would be a good choice for the German patent community.

And it is possible to use the term “Fachperson”! There are already some (few) decisions by the German Federal Patent Court as well as by the German Federal Supreme Court (BGH) where the “Fachmann” has disappeared in favor of the “Fachperson”, e. g. BPatG decision 9 W (pat) 55/19, dated 10.11.2021, BGH decisions of 28.01.2021 – X ZR 178/18, of 17.12.2020 – X ZR 15/19, of 26.01.2016 – II ZR 394/13.

Language in general is alive and shifting, and evolves as the context in which it is used changes. Who would have thought 200 years ago of terms like “computer” or “telephone” which are now part of our everyday vocabulary? So, why not establish the “Fachperson” to be used with the same naturalness, rendering the “Fachmann” the outdated term?

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