|Stay classy, San Diego!|
I recently had the pleasure of watching the sequel to one of my all-time favourite films, Anchorman. Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues is the second outing of Will Ferrell’s moustachioed 1970s newsreader Ron Burgundy. It’s worth watching if you liked the first one, but not nearly as good. Along with a lot of tongue-in-cheek humour and slapstick comedy, the films also feature their fair share of animals. The first film has Baxter, Ron’s dog (Jack Black boots him off a bridge) along with a panda and several Kodiak bears. The sequel adds dolphins and a shark affectionately named Doby. Animal lovers will be relieved to hear that, despite Ron and Doby engaging in a little wrestling, the American Humane Association (AHA) stated in the film’s credits that:
This post examines whether trade mark rights can be claimed in slogans and considers the AHA's prospects of success in registering this one in the United Kingdom or elsewhere in the European Union.
Can trade mark rights be claimed in a slogan?
- In assessing distinctive character, it is not appropriate to apply to slogans criteria which are stricter than those applicable to other types of sign (Case C-64/02 P OHIM v Erpo Möbelwerk).
- Furthermore, although it might be more difficult to establish distinctiveness in relation to slogans because of the perception by the public of them as advertising (“…average consumers are not in the habit of making assumptions about the origin of products on the basis of such slogans” [although the case in 2002, is this proposition still valid in 2014?]), there is no special test or principles to apply to them (Erpo Möbelwerk). [If there is indeed no special test or principles, you should probably just ignore all the points below. Evidently there are special considerations, at the least.]
- The fact that no one else uses a slogan does not make it automatically distinctive (Erpo Möbelwerk).
- The mere facts that a mark is perceived by the public as promotional, and being laudatory might be used by other traders, is not enough in itself to support a conclusion that the mark is devoid of distinctive character (Audi).
- A mark may be perceived as a badge of origin even if it is at the same time primarily understood as a promotional formula and this has no bearing on its distinctive character (Audi).
- It does not necessarily follow that a weaker distinctive character of a sign is sufficient where the relevant public is specialist (Smart Technologies).
- Multiple meanings, plays on words or marks which are “imaginative, surprising and unexpected” generally endow such marks with distinctive character. The same goes for marks possessing a “certain originality or resonance requiring at least some interpretation by the relevant public” or those which set off “a cognitive process in the minds of the public” (Audi). Elements of “conceptual intrigue” was also mentioned by the General Court in Smart Technologies.
- Unusual syntactic structures and/or the use of linguistic and stylistic devices such as alliteration, metaphor, rhyme or paradox may also assist (OHIM Manual B4 1.5.5). Ambiguity may also help (UKIPO Manual 3 1.5).
- Examples of slogans which have not passed muster at OHIM and the UKIPO are those which are purely promotional statements (SAY IT WITH CHAMPAGNE for Champagne); straightforward value statements (CARING FOR THE PLANET); inspirational or motivational statements (especially for services) (GO FOR IT for training courses); statements by/about the user of goods/wearer of clothing (HERE COMES TROUBLE on clothing); and political mottos (SAVE OUR EARTH NOW).
|A whole wheel of cheese?|
Leaving that aside, how would the AHA’s slogan fare in an assessment of inherent distinctiveness?
The first thing that strikes you about the slogan is how bland it is. It is a bald, straightforward statement of fact. It tells you what has, or rather hasn’t happened, to the animals involved in the film. An important message no doubt, but nothing more than that. There is nothing imaginative, surprising or unexpected about it, and perhaps that is how it should be given that the message being delivered is a serious one. Furthermore, there’s no originality, resonance, alliteration, ambiguity and so on. No interpretation is required and no cognitive processes engaged. It would appear to tick none of the boxes, and fail the distinctiveness test.
Marks which are not inherently distinctive may nevertheless acquire distinctiveness through use (see the HAVE A BREAK case as an example). But in light of what I say above, I don’t think that the public – at least the British public – see “no animals were harmed in the making of this film” as a badge of origin, and certainly don’t associate it with the AHA (if you were to ask them a leading question about provenance, you’d no doubt get more references to the RSCPA). So that route would fail too.
The AHA did actually apply to register the slogan as a Community trade mark back in 2002. It was in Class 42, for “Scientific and technological services and research and design relating thereto; industrial analysis and research services; design and development of computer hardware and software; legal services; film certification services.” OHIM rejected it as devoid of distinctive character. After some persuasion, OHIM waived its objection for the underlined goods and services, but upheld it for the remainder. For film certification services, it added that the mark described the content of those services, so was also objectionable as being descriptive. Although the application then proceeded to publication with the limited list of goods and services, the AHA failed to pay the then payable registration fee and the application was deemed abandoned.
An alternative: certification marks?
|Only one type of animal was
harmed in the making of this beef
“The certification mark, as used by authorized persons, certifies that the treatment of animals during motion picture, film, television, and live show production conforms to the standards, regulations, guidelines, or specifications developed and published by the certifier.”
“... a mark indicating that the goods or services in connection with which it is used are certified by the proprietor of the mark in respect of origin, material, mode of manufacture of goods or performance of services, quality, accuracy or other characteristics.”
The key prerequisite for obtaining such a mark is that there exist regulations governing the use of the mark, which have to be filed with the application. The regulations must indicate who is authorised to use the mark, the characteristics to be certified by the mark, how the certifying body is to test those characteristics and to supervise the use of the mark, the procedures for resolving disputes, and so on. Whether this means you have to file one or 100 pages of regulations may depend on which UKIPO examiner considers your application.
Although this would appear to be just the right kind of mark for the AHA, it would still have to satisfy the basic requirements of a trade mark, including distinctiveness. There is a slightly different test for distinctiveness of certification marks, which looks at the ability of the mark to distinguish goods or services which are certified from those which are not (Paragraph 2 of Schedule 2 of the UK Act). But the usual not distinctive and descriptive objections remain. The UKIPO gives “GUARANTEED 100% COTTON” for cotton shirts as an example of an objectionable certification mark, not just because it should be free for traders to use to describe their products but also because it does not indicate that a certification scheme (rather than just an individual trader) is guaranteeing the presence of the characteristic. In my view the AHA’s slogan would fail for the same reason: there’s nothing in it to indicate anyone in particular has certified it, and the UK public would have no idea the AHA was involved.
So, a bit of bad news for the AHA, but at least the animals are all right.