Tim Lince

Every Tuesday and Friday World Trademark Review presents a round-up of news, developments and insights from across the trademark sphere. In today’s edition, we look at the latest brand value ranking table, research into American brands in the era of Trump, a darknet seller arrested on his way to a beard competition and the death of a notorious cybersquatter and “news satirist”. Coverage this time from Tim Lince (TJL), Adam Houldsworth (AH) and Timothy Au (TA).
 

Legal Radar:

Greek minister warns China to cancel fake GIs – Vasilis Kokkalis, Greece’s deputy minister of rural development and food, has called on China to cancel two fake trademarks – for ‘Feta’ and ‘Samos’ – which he has called an “insurmountable obstacle” for the protection of the respective Greek products. This throws a spanner into the works of a deal agreed earlier in the year between the European Union and China to protect 100 geographical indications (GI) in each region; Kokkalis has said that the protection of the two products are of “crucial importance” for the deal to conclude. This is not the only complication though, as Greece, Italy, Spain, France, Germany, Portugal, Hungary and Romania have jointly filed suit against China over 25 trademarks that overlap with EU GIs. The European Union has certainly has its hands full establishing GI rights – earlier this month it also outlined its post-Brexit vision for the treatment of GIs in the UK. (TA)

China’s commerce ministry says IP efforts not due to external pressure – China’s Ministry of Commerce has said at a briefing in Beijing that the country’s planned clampdown on IP rights violations did not come about because of pressure from other countries, but because IP rights are seen as important to China and enforcement efforts reflect its official policy. It also stated that imports will be boosted to balance trade flows with foreign markets. The ministry announced its IP infringement crackdown campaign earlier this month; running from September until the end of the year. It will focus on targeting knock-offs of recognised brands and theft of business secrets. (TA)

Myanmar IP office plans take clearer form – Myanmar’s government is moving forward with plans to establish a national IP department, announcing that it will establish an expert Intellectual Property Committee to debate IP policies and shape the transition to a new system. The country has been working towards the implementation of its first trademark laws for several years, with the legislation now expected to be passed soon. (AH)

Darknet seller arrested on way to beard competition – We’ve written extensively about the threats that exist on the darknet, including marketplaces that are rife with counterfeiters. In July, the AlphaBay marketplace – the largest on the darknet with over 240,000 registered users – was closed following a multinational law enforcement operation. It appears the crackdown on darknet traders is continuing; the Miami Herald has reported on the arrest of Gal Vallerius, a French citizen who is accused of being a “drug kingpin” and administrator of the Dream darknet marketplace (under the username “OxyMonster”). The arrest was made as Vallerius was travelling to the US to attend the World Beard and Moustache Championships in Austin, Texas. Unsurprisingly, media reports on the arrest make mention of his “magnificent red beard” – but for trademark owners, the takeaway should be that the darknet clampdown continues. (TJL)

John Lemon rebrands after legal challenge – A line of drinks under the brand John Lemon will be rebranded to On Lemon, after Yoko Ono Lennon took legal action against the Polish company which sells the beverages. The company was warned by Ono Lennon’s lawyers that a finding of trademark infringement would result in damages equalling €5,000 a day plus €500 for every bottle sold. John Lemon’s attorneys claim the company had registered its trademark in 2014 – whereas the John Lennon brand was not registered until 2016 – but that a settlement had been reached to avoid the risk of the lemonade’s production being banned. The use of famous identities for products and services is always tempting for marketers, but rights of publicity are still a developing subsection of trademark law and there remains a distinct lack of consistency in how these rights are treated around the world. (TA)

Brazilian IP office strengthens international cooperation – A flurry of recent activity, reported by IPTango, has illustrated the extent of Brazil’s commitment to global cooperation on IP matters. The country’s IP office president, Luiz Otávio Pimentel, met this week with representatives of the EUIPO as part of the latter’s IP Key Latin America, a project to promote IP rights in the continent by promoting good practice and the development of IT capabilities. This followed Pimentel’s signing a memorandum of understanding with his Argentinian counterpart on September 14, and the visit of Danish patent and trademark office representatives shortly before. These meetings also coincide with the World Intellectual Property Organisation’s announcement that it will open a new office in Rio de Janeiro. (AH)

Market radar:

Valve opens portal to fan-made models – Videogame company Valve announced this week that it has struck a deal with 3D printing platform Shapeways to allow anyone to make and sell their own branded merchandise. The partnership, as explained on the announcement page, allows users on the Shapeways platform to participate in a program to sell 3D models using IP from gaming franchises including Half Life, Portal and Team Fortress. In exchange for access to the license (and ability to sell and advertise the models on and offline), Valve will get 10% in royalties (based on the cost of the model). "We’re thrilled that Valve has decided to embrace and empower its fan community in this way, and we’re confident it will pave the way for a new movement in companies engaging with fandoms,” said Tom Finn, interim CEO of Shapeways, during the announcement. Whether it does lead to more brand tie-ups with 3D printing platforms remains to be seen. (TJL)

Research radar:

Technology brands rise in Interbrand’s 2017 rankings – Apple and Google remain the world’s most valuable brands, according the Interbrand’s 2017 Best Global Brands, which for the first time includes tech companies in five of the top ten slots. Microsoft receives a boost in the rankings, knocking Coca-Cola out of the bronze medal position, while Amazon and Adobe also saw their brand values revised upwards. As World Trademark Review has reported,  brand valuation rankings divide opinion. One leading valuation organisation, Markables, argued recently that such league tables have “little or no relevance for transactions” and should be discontinued. In the next issue of World Trademark Review magazine, we will be presenting a debate on brand ranking tables which reveals the bitter divide that exists between the two sides. (AH)

China still the top infringer for imports into Japan Statistics from the Japanese government show that China remains the main source of infringing imported goods into Japan (for the seventh consecutive year), as noted by World Trademark Review’s sister publication, IAM. 92.8% of the 15,393 import suspension cases reported in the first half of 2017 came from China – a 12.5% increase compared to the same period in 2016. Trademark infringement made up the vast majority (98%) of these import suspension cases. (TA)

US brands still seen favourably despite Trump effect – American brands continue to be seen in positive light in the age of Trump, a report by J.Walter Thompson suggests. Based on a survey of 3,000 people in five countries – China, India, Mexico, Russia and the United Kingdom – the study reveals high global approval ratings for US brands, ranging from 78% in the United Kingdom to 93% in China and India. “Quality” and “innovative” are words which remain closely associated with US companies, although (perhaps surprisingly) very few Silicon Valley firms are among those with the strongest recognition; Apple, Coca-Cola, Ford, Nike and McDonald’s are some of those which leapt to the minds of respondents. Interestingly, the report highlights a distinction between US brands and ‘brand US’, showing that global perceptions of the country itself have suffered since Trump entered the Oval Office: 40% or more of Mexicans, Russians and Brits now have negative views of the US. (AH)

Domain name radar:

New gTLDs yet to overcome email hurdle – A new study conducted by Donuts and ICANN staff has concluded that a significant proportion of popular websites do not support email addresses containing long top-level domains. As reported by Domain Incite, the study looked at 749 websites (taken from Alexa’s top 1,000 websites) and tested email forms on each of them. When using an email that ended in ‘.technology’, 22% of websites did not accept it. Positively, only 9% rejected an email ending in another new gTLD, ‘.link’. The figures were significantly lower for internationalized emails; over 90% email addresses in Arabic script were rejected by popular websites, for example. As the report notes, there is “much work” to be done before the web is full accepting of new gTLDs and ccTLDs. (TJL)

On the move…

Brinks Gilson & Lione announces new class of graduates – IP firm Brinks Gilson & Lione has announced its incoming class of seven law school graduates, six of whom are women. The boutique’s president has taken the chance to emphasise the importance of diversity for the firm, and has also announced that the firm will be participating in the Diversity Lab’s Mansfield Rule program – a new initiative that aims to increase diversity in leadership positions in Big Law. (TA)

Media watch:

UK political party’s causes lion debate – A UK far-right political party, the UK Independence Party (UKIP), is hosting its annual conference this week. As part of the event, members were invited to vote on the party’s new logo – with the eventual winner featuring a purple lion as part of its design. As the vote was taking place, social media lit up with users debating the similarities between the proposed design and that of the English Premier League (which also features a purple lion), with many accusing it of being a “rip-off”. One reporter – echoing the sentiment of Kevin Keegan – tweeted: “I would love it - LOVE IT - if the Premier League launched a passing off action on this.” On the flipside, UKIP interim leader Steve Crowther disagreed that there’s any legal issue: “I’m told the Premier League are consulting their lawyers and their lawyers will tell them the same thing our lawyers told us – it’s a different lion! It’s clearly a different thing. You can’t have a copyright law that says ‘you’ve done something a bit like it’." I’m sure readers will have an opinion on whether the similarity is an infringement or not… (TJL)

Discussions of piracy and organised crime dominated by hyperbole, Indian IP blog argues – The alleged connection between piracy and terrorism/organised crime is not grounded in concrete research, argues a blog on Spicy IP. The piece claims that there is a discrepancy between the evidence that exists for this relationship, and the claims made about it by public figures. It cites a report by the Financial Action Task Force, which does not mention piracy as a significant mode of terrorist funding. Instancing the comments of Home Minister Rajnath Singh, the blog claims that “the authorities seem overly interested in attaching a stigma to piracy, disproportionate to the actual threat it poses”. (AH)

Notorious cybersquatter and ‘news satirist’ passes away – The political press has reported that Paul Horner, who claimed last year that “Trump won the White House because of me”, has passed away. He was 38. Horner spoke with World Trademark Review in 2015 about the range of ‘satirical news websites’ he launched, which included sites that infringed the trademarks of well-known news outlets (eg, ‘foxnews.com.de’, ‘usatoday.com.co’ and ‘nbc.com.co’). He talked openly to us about the numerous legal disputes he was involved in, and offered advice to rights holders on how to more effectively tackle cybersquatters. “If lawyers do a Google search for my name, they would see that the scare tactic is not the way to go, and realise I’m a guy that will mess with them if they try and play hard-ball. So it’s simple, research the recipient before sending a cease-and-desist letter – know who your target is.” A few months after he spoke with us, his ‘fake news’ became significantly more prominent. During the 2016 US election, his ‘fake news’ articles – nearly always pro-Trump and anti-Clinton – often went viral on social media, including being shared by Trump’s campaign manager Corey Lewandowski. Nonetheless, Horner denied being a Trump supporter. In fact, his brother, J.J., told the Associated Press claims his agenda was not political at all: “I think he just wanted people to just think for themselves and be credible for their actions: read more; get more involved instead of just blindly sharing things.” (TJL)

And finally…

Trademark symbol no longer flying in Idaho – The trademark community will be no doubt be sad to hear that the city of Pocatello, located in southern Idaho, has taken down its notorious regional flag which included the trademark symbol as part of its design. Declared the worst city flag on the continent by the North American Vexillological Association, the city’s original flag contained three garish purple ‘peaks’ and a logo which retained the trademark icon. The new flag, decided after the city formed two dedicated committees to create a new design, was unveiled last week(TJL)

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