When trademark applications go viral

As the coronavirus spreads, so too do related trademark applications. It’s only the latest example of how registrations follow medical and political news.

The coronavirus pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on global populations, and the ways in which we all work and socialise. Every business is likely to be affected by the virus, whether in terms of its employee’s health and working practices, its supply chains, sales channels and revenue streams, or its brand reputation (see our business continuity update here).

Take, for example, the famous Mexican beer brand, Corona, which has been unfortunate to find itself linked to COVID-19 for all the wrong reasons. Last month, the company behind the beer announced losses of £132 million as a result of its naming similarity with the virus. There has also been a reported rise in web searches for ‘Corona beer virus’, with searchers apparently confused by the name enough to research possible links between the two.

Opportunistic applications

Where there is a challenge, of course, others see opportunity, and there has been a number of trademark applications for brand names that include the word ‘coronavirus’. For example, a US application to register the brand name ‘Coronavirus Survival Guide’ in class 16 (printed goods), as well as ‘Coronavirus’ for classes 9, 25 and 41 (for musical recordings and merchandising). 

There have been similar trademark applications across the EU, including an attempt to register the word ‘Coronavirus’ in Italy and Spain, and to also protect ‘Coronavirus Wines’ in Italy. Word mark registrations have also been attempted in Chile and Spain. It is yet to be seen how many will be filed in the UK, but no doubt there will be applications in the future.

UK Chartered Trademark Attorney Alastair Rawlence comments: “It is unlikely that any opportunistic attempts to register marks containing the word ‘Coronavirus’ will proceed to registration at the UK IPO, for example. The majority should face objections to registration; for example, on the grounds that the mark is ‘contrary to public policy or to accepted principles of morality’. 

“Some recent examples of similar opportunistic applications before the UK IPO, include ‘Brexit Blue’ for cheese products in class 29 and ‘English Brexit Tea’ for goods in class 30. However, a similar application for the term ‘Brexit’ was refused by the UK IPO for goods such as biscuits in class 30.” 

If you do wish to register a mark which contains the word ‘Coronavirus’, Alastair suggests that registration is more likely if that term is used descriptively (but not deceptively) in the context of the mark as a whole.

For more information and advice, please speak to your Novagraaf attorney or contact us below. 

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