24th July 2014
Trade marks aren’t very often accused of being offensive – the best known recent example is FCUK nearly 10 years ago and, anyway, that was held to be acceptable.
But breaking news reveals there has been an attempt to register 2 trade marks which are very likely to push the bounds of public tolerance. A Belize based company has applied to register MH17 and MH370 (the flight numbers of the two recently downed Malaysia Airlines jets) as trade marks in the USA and the EU “so it will get paid every time either term is used in print, radio, TV or online media”.
As a money making scheme, this is ludicrous – use of either of these numbers as a reference to either of the aeroplanes in question would not be use as a trade mark and would not require consent of (let alone payment to) any trade mark owner. However, it’s hard to think of a more distasteful way to attempt to make money from current events, nor one which is more likely to cause upset and distress. But does this, therefore, mean that the marks “are contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality” or (as prohibited by the US Lanham Act) “consist of or comprise immoral, deceptive, or scandalous matter”?
Taste is certainly a subjective and ephemeral concept, and perceptions change. Time can heal wounds and temper the unacceptable – imagine, for instance, an attempt to register TITANIC as a trade mark in 1912 as opposed to a century later. But some situations seem to call for a refusal to act in certain ways, even where such actions may be legally permissible. “United 93” – a film about one of the aeroplanes involved in 9/11 and which was widely positively received – appears to have spawned no attempts to register any trade marks. This is certainly an unusual situation for a blockbuster movie in recent years but perhaps one which speaks of respectful restraint.