An article in Saturday’s New York Times by Robert Crandall, former chief executive of American Airlines draws attention to the practice of code sharing. This is where prominent airlines allow other carriers to use their two-letter codes (e.g. AA for American Airlines in the flight number) to denote their flights, even though the prominent airline is not actually operating the journey. Crandall is concerned:
“All this has happened despite the fact that there are precious few consumer benefits to code-sharing. The main beneficiaries of these arrangements are the airlines, which can mislead passengers into believing that they will be flying a complete itinerary on one carrier, when in fact, they will be using several airlines.”
According to the article, it also allows major carriers to shield themselves from the competition of smaller carriers by killing off independent carriers not involved in such code sharing.
The IPKat says the trade mark implications of code sharing depend on how it’s treated by the airlines concerned. Trade mark licensing is permissible in principle and if the prominent airlines exercise control over the quality of the airlines that they allow to use their codes then this doesn’t seem too different from licensing. However, if the sharing is done in such a way that consumers do not realize that they are flying on a less prestigious airline until they reach the airport (or even the airport itself) then consumer are deceived. In the UK at least, if a trade mark owner uses his mark deceptively he is liable to have it revoked under s.46(1)(d) of the Trade Marks Act 1994.

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