News that somebody sought to register a trademark on the term
MH17 within a day of the plane being shot down over Ukraine makes
you shake your head in despair. The Sydney Morning Herald
reported that a mysterious company registered in Kuala Lumpur
applied to the Australian Trade Marks Office for the right to
trademark the term MH17 - the flight number of the plane downed
with 298 people on board, including 38 Australian citizens and
It follows a similar move after flight MH370 mysteriously
disappeared on March 8 with 239 people on board. Four days after
the Malaysian plane went missing a company applied to register a
trademark in Australia for the term MH370. Malaysian airlines has
since also applied to register the flight number as a trademark,
presumably to stop others exploiting ownership of the term.
If the companies succeed in getting a trademark for the flight
numbers it would mean they own the term. In future anybody who
wants to use the flight numbers in the title of a book or movie
would have to pay rights to the trademark holder.
It remains to be seen what the Trade Marks Office decides, but
the law covering trademarks does not consider bad taste a defining
Section 42(a) of the Trade Marks Act 1995 states an application
for a trademark can be rejected if it contains or consists of
"scandalous" matter. It's up to the Trade Mark Office
to determine what scandalous means, and it takes each application
as a separate case. It takes into account emotional reactions the
term might elicit from the public and whether a "not
insubstantial" number of people will be shocked by the
trademark. It recognises public reaction changes over time. The
Office recently allowed the trademark 'NuckinFuts' for a
brand of nut snacks - but limited sales to pubs and clubs where
kids couldn't buy them. The Australian Trade Marks Manual says
humour or idiosyncratic spelling is generally allowable. That would
amuse those walking around in T-Shirts saying FCUK.
You can trademark more than just words. Shapes, Smells, sounds,
movements and even colours can also be registered. The Toblerone
triangle shaped box is registered, as is the classic Coke bottle
shape, Cadbury's purple wrapping, Kraft's cream cheese
silver wrapping, and the red wax tips on bananas are registered by
a company called Fada. They don't own the colour, but it does
prevent a rival using the same colour or shape in similar
Copyright is different - it gives protection to the authors of
created works such as literature, web content, drama, music and
The content of this article is intended to provide a general
guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought
about your specific circumstances.
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