King's Speech suffers fresh impediment

"But no actors were harmed ..."
The IPKat was astonished to read the following item, which he discovered via this link to All Headline News from the ever-vigilant Bob Boad.  Apparently
"The producer of “The King’s Speech", which has received 12 Academy Awards nominations, has settled a dispute with the American Humane Society over the use of its disclaimer phrase in the movie’s end credits. Producer Emile Sherman issued a statement saying that the issue with AHA has been resolved.  Sherman also assured that animals used in the making of the movie were not harmed. Sherman indicated that the producers were not aware that the phrase “no animals were harmed” had a trademark owned by AHA.

The society had sent a letter to Wesintein Co. asking the distributor of “The King’s Speech” to remove the phrase in the movie’s end credits.

AHA argued that its representatives never oversaw animals used in the shooting of the film and never read the script of the movie, which it requires before allowing the use of the phrase guaranteeing that animal rights were protected in the making of a movie".
The IPKat is trying hard not to be too astonished at the thought that the words "No animals were harmed" have somehow become the property of a single body. Surely the words "No animals were harmed" are descriptive of all goods and services which have been made or which are performed without any animals being hurt? Would some noble American practitioner like to stand up and justify the registration?  Merpel speculates as to whether it is open to film makers and others to use phrases such as "Unharmed were all animals", "Harmed not were all the animals" or suchlike.
King's Speech suffers fresh impediment King's Speech suffers fresh impediment Reviewed by Jeremy on Sunday, February 13, 2011 Rating: 5


  1. No actor wore any items made out of leather; no mosquito got plastered on the windshield of any production vehicle; no meat or gelatine articles were offered on the set canteen's menu, and the Royal crown liner was artificial fur, preferably not made out of decomposed dinosaur remains. Is this what the phrase means, or does it fall under the purview of laws concerning false advertising claims?

    On a related subject, it was reported in the press that Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada and of other unimportant US aircraft carriers had "approved" of the film. What are her powers? Is there a "droit à l'image" in Britain? Does it extend to royals?

  2. Years ago I bought a pack of playing cards at Busch Gardens which bore the legend "Extinction is forever (R)". Makes AB's claims to the odd Budweiser trademark seem quite unadventurous .

  3. Is US certification mark system similar to the UK one?

    (Presumably "No animals were harmed" is a certification mark, given it doesn't denote the origin of the product in question, nor does it - given its location in the film - enable consumers to distinguish products.)

    In terms of it being descriptive, the BLC's "hide sign" certification mark springs to mind - that's wholly descriptive of the goods to which it is applied, but is still permitted to be monopolised by a service provider.

  4. I can understand the initial disbelief and descriptive argument, but it may have become distinctive through use (we have all seen it used over many years), and if it represents a certain standard being met then it is probably a good thing.

  5. Maybe we need an Academy Award for the most idiotic law suit of the year in the entertainment industry.

    There would be no shortage of contenders.

    Too much money and too few brains.

  6. It is indeed a certification mark. Quoting from the "Other Data" portion of US Reg. No. 76394807, the mark "certifies that the treatment of animals during motion picture, film, television, and live show production confirms to the standards, regulations, guideliens or specifications developed and published by the certifier. Applicant is not engaged in the production or marketing of the services with which the mark is used." So it seems the AHS mark is the Good Housekeeping seal for treatment of Kats and dogs alike in the film industry.

    I have to say this really surprised me, but that's what makes this such fun, right?

    Best, Kelly Merkel

  7. Thanks Kelly, but I'm flummoxed as to why a certification mark of this nature should be the subject of a monopoly. What public policy is served by this? And what would happen if another organisation came along with higher standards: would it be forced to use a different certification line?

  8. How about a new certification mark: "No trade marks were infringed during the making of this film"!

  9. whether it is open to film makers and others to use phrases such as "Unharmed were all animals", "Harmed not were all the animals" or suchlike

    Hmmm. Also harmed not were the small green inhabitants of Dagobah... yes.

    distinctive through use

    The problem with this justification is that the basis for considering a mark to have acquired distinctiveness through use is that by repeated exposure to the mark, we learn that it is indeed a trademark and that it denotes a specific supplier. Here, I would agree wholeheartedly that there has been repeated exposure, but the only meaning that (until today) I associated with the mark was that, err, no animals were harmed in the making of the film.

    The Treat case springs to mind, although that is from the sane(ish) side of the Atlantic... ;-)

  10. A few weeks ago a film actor was reminiscing on TV about how, in the 1950's, Westerns were sometimes shot in Mexico where there were no animal protection laws and they could, for example, drive live cattle or horses over a cliff when filming a stampede. Perhaps it was this sort of thing that led to the AHA getting involved. Not that I think that justifies monopolising a sentence that is prima facie wholly descriptive.

  11. The American Humane Association also had a mark 'No animal was harmed' (76134672) but they abandoned this. Does this mean this phrase is now free to all? Singular (!) if so.

    IP experts (or at least, some of us who think we're IP experts) can be astounded by what is possible in areas they think they know about but don't regularly practise in. Will the Soil Association will now seek to register 'organic' as a trade mark (or has it already?)?


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