Business Law & Compliance


From Huawei to Harley Davidson: Six of the strangest trademark attempts made

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You’d think Skype was fairly distinguishable from Sky – one’s video chat software, the other a broadcaster. But unfortunately, judges at the General Court of the European Union disagreed. In a recent ruling, the EU Court said that the names were so similar the public is likely to be confused between the two.

The Microsoft-owned company can’t register a trademark for Skype’s name and bubble-design logo, as the decision currently stands.

“Conceptually, the figurative element conveys no concept, except perhaps that of a cloud,” the judges explained. They added that this would “further increase the likelihood of the element ‘Sky’ being recognised within the word element ‘Skype,’ for clouds are to be found ‘in the sky’ and thus may readily be associated with the word ‘sky’.”

The two companies also butted heads back in 2014 over the naming of Microsoft’s cloud storage service, which had been SkyDrive. The High Court in London agreed that Sky’s trademark had been infringed, and the product was renamed OneDrive.

Big-name companies often wage trademark battles, with varying degrees of success. We’ve gathered some of the weirdest (and most optimistic) claims out there.

(1) Yes to Dr No

Despite opposition from the American owners of the rights to the James Bond films, the European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg ruled that the phrase “Dr No” wasn’t a protected trademark, back in 2009. Although the 1962 film starring Sean Connery is one of the most well-known of the 007 titles, the court’s verdict meant German media group Mission Productions was permitted to register the name across the EU.

Danjaq, the US company which manages the intellectual property rights to the Bond series of films, had claimed there was a risk of confusion because of the association with Dr No in the film along with promotional material. The judges said the essential function of a trade mark was commercial recognition, and those used by Danjaq were artistic rather than commercial signs.

(2) The ultimate face-off

Facebook managed to trademark the word “Face” back in 2010. This may initially seem a bit over the top, but the US Patent and Trademark Office granted the request with a Notice of Allowance enforcing certain conditions. The trademark covered the use of “Face” in telecommunication services, “namely, providing online chat rooms and electronic bulletin boards for transmission of messages” according to the judgement.

The social media site does tend to keep an eye out for companies using “Face” or “Book” in names though. It previously sued Teachbook, stating that “book” was a term closely associated with Facebook, and the name “pilfers a distinctive part of the Facebook”.

(3) Stay away from selfies

Image: Shutterstock

Chinese smartphone manufacturer Huawei was possibly pushing colloquial lingo a step too far last year when it filed an application for the word “groufie” as a trademark. While “selfie” has permeated popular culture, it might take a while for “groufie” – a panoramic self-portrait – to catch on. Huawei sought to get ahead of the game though, and wanted to coin the term across China, France, Germany, Russia and the US.

The company first used the word in public at an event last year, where its Ascend P7 smartphone was launched. It’s yet to be announced whether Huawei was successful, and jury’s still out on whether “groufie” will catch on at all anyway.

Read more on trademarks:

Read on to discover what trademark attempts Harley Davidson, Lacoste and someone attempting to piggyback the British Royal family’s prestige made.

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