PIMP MY RIDE overcomes objections of immorality

South Korea

The Korean Patent Court has overturned a decision finding that the mark PIMP MY RIDE is contrary to public order or morality (Case 2007heo2384, June 14 2007).

"Pimp My Ride" is the title of a television programme produced by MTV. The show consists of taking a car in poor condition, and restoring and customizing it. "Pimp My Ride" is one of MTV's most popular shows and it is often referred to by other television shows and comedic acts.

Viacom, MTV's parent company, filed an application to register PIMP MY RIDE as a trademark in Korea in Classes 9, 38 and 41 of the Nice Classification. However, the Korean Intellectual Property Office (KIPO) rejected the application on the grounds that the phrase 'Pimp My Ride' has a sexual meaning and is therefore contrary to public order or morality. The Intellectual Property Tribunal (IPT) dismissed Viacom's appeal against KIPO's final decision.

The IPT held that the words 'PIMP' and 'RIDE' have suggestive sexual connotations and that PIMP MY RIDE as a whole could be perceived as meaning 'to pimp a prostitute', which is vulgar and obscene, and thus contrary to public order or morality. The IPT dismissed Viacom's arguments that:

  • the 'PIMP' element was already registered in both the United States and the United Kingdom; and

  • PIMP MY RIDE would most likely be recognized as meaning 'to pimp my car', since the phrase had been widely used in the United States as the name of a television programme about remodelling cars.

Viacom filed an appeal to the Patent Court. In these proceedings, Viacom strongly emphasized that PIMP MY RIDE, either taken as a whole or divided into its separate elements, does not contravene public order or morality. Further, Viacom argued that for the Korean consumer, the 'PIMP' element represents a difficult English word that is not immediately recognizable. Viacom also argued that PIMP MY RIDE is famous in various countries, including the United States and Korea, as the name of a popular television show, which has been regularly broadcasted on television in Korea. Additionally, Viacom pointed out that 'pimp my…' has become a catchphrase that is prominently used by several other global companies to convey the idea of improving an item (eg, Hewlett Packard ran a 'Pimp my Printer' promotion). Accordingly, the phrase could not be seen as an obscenity.

KIPO argued that:

  • according to the English-Korean dictionary, 'pimp' is a man who brokers sexual services of women for profit; and

  • even though the primary meaning of 'ride' is to describe a vehicle, it is highly likely that most people would recognize the word as meaning 'sexual intercourse' because it is used in conjunction with the word 'pimp'.

To support its arguments, KIPO submitted a print-out containing search results for the word 'pimp' from Google. From this extensive list, KIPO highlighted the fact that 'pimp' was mainly used to refer to matters of a sexual nature and, thus, it could be assumed that more people understand it to mean the conventional meaning (ie, a man who brokers sexual services of women for profit) and not to mean 'improving' or 'changing' an item.

The Patent Court overturned the IPT decision. The court held that PIMP MY RIDE may have a dictionary meaning that contravenes public order or morality. However, it recognized that the word 'pimp' also means 'to be decked out'. Further, the court found that:

  • the mark refers to a television show that is popular in various countries and that has been regularly broadcasted on television in Korea; and

  • the phrase 'pimp my…' or 'pimp your…' is prominently used by several other global companies to convey the idea of improving an item (eg, pimp my space, pimp my desk or pimp your boyfriend).

Accordingly, the court concluded that the mark should not be considered an obscenity and be allowed to proceed to registration.

Sung-Nam Kim and Alex Hyon Cho, Kim & Chang, Seoul

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