Posted by: Paul A. Forsyth | January 16, 2015

People are Trying to Trademark “Je suis Charlie”

I suppose this was sadly inevitable. World Trademark Review:

A trademark application has been filed at the Benelux Trademarks Office for ‘Je suis Charlie’, the slogan adopted by supporters of free speech and freedom of expression in the wake of last week’s Charlie Hebdo magazine massacre in Paris. …

The trademark application was filed by Belgian resident Yanick Uytterhaegen less than 24 hours after the tragic events in Paris last week and covers Nice classes 3, 16, 25, 28, 32, 35 and 38 – spanning cleaning and toilet preparations, paper goods, clothing, games, drinks, advertising and telecommunications.

Well, we’ve seen people try to trademark “I CAN’T BREATHE,” “BOSTON STRONG,” and “JUSTICE 4 TRAYVON,” so, as I said, something like this is not unexpected. Tactless, repulsive, exploitative, greedy and grubby — but not unexpected.

As some European trademark attorneys quoted in the World Trademark Review story note, there are a number of potential grounds that the Benelux Trademarks Office could use to reject the application — including the fact that the publisher of Charlie Hebdo has a French trademark in the magazine’s name:

Daboul also mentions that the magazine Charlie Hebdo could claim unregistered trademark rights to the term, based on the word ‘Charlie’ in the slogan and that the term is globally known as being associated with the publication, adding: “There is scope to argue that the applicant would have known that the trademark did not belong to him, when it was filed just one day after the tragedy.”

Maeyaert expands: “The publisher has a French trademark, CHARLIE HEBDO, which has become well-known, in the sense of Article 6bis of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, in just a one-week period. Therefore, since the slogan ‘Je suis Charlie’ constitutes a reproduction of the essential part of the trademark CHARLIE HEBDO, the publisher could file opposition at least with respect to the filing for similar products and services (Classes 16 and 35) provided that a risk of confusion can be established.”

Oh, and now it appears that someone has filed a similar application in the US (U.S. Trademark App. Serial No. 86/499,802, filed January 9). Robert Ledesma explains why this trademark application is unlikely to succeed in the US Patent and Trademark Office:

Trademarks are source identifiers. They point to a single source for certain goods and/or services. Common and popular rallying cries fail to function as trademarks because the public does not identify them with a single source. Instead, the public views them as conveying an informational message about the cause or issue being addressed.

I hope that Ledesma is right.

(I note with some concern that someone managed to register “KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON” in the USPTO back in 2011. That registration — U.S. Trademark Reg. No. 4,066,622 — appears to be based, pursuant to Section 44(d) of the Trademark Act [15 U.S.C. § 1126(d)], on an earlier Community Trade Mark registration in the EU’s Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market [OHIM]; it seems that the OHIM granted a registration after the UK IP Office had refused registration. So, if some foreign trademark office is foolish enough to grant a registration for “JE SUIS CHARLIE,” that foreign registrant might be able to use that foreign registration to ease the path to registration in the USPTO. YMMV.)

Hat tip: Mike Masnick, Techdirt.

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