Pride Toronto Seeking To Trademark Names Of 2 LGBT Marches, Claims It's Doing So Defensively

from the offense-as-a-defense dept

While I tend to like the use of trademark laws more than other forms of IP, it’s long overdue that we all start admitting the realm of trademark has a problem. In a variety of industries, the use of trademarks is either not serving its original purpose or is doing vastly more harm than good. Craft beer is one of those industries, for instance. It’s starting to seem like trademark use in certain advocacy realms is getting that way as well.

Take the LGBT community, for instance. As the country and the West becomes a more welcoming and tolerant society, I suppose it was somewhat inevitable that we’d start to see trademark related stories about what is essentially a potential customer demographic. That said, it’s been frustrating for some of us to see trademark fights spring up between groups that both advocate for LGBT rights. There was the early example of a fight between bloggers over the term “gaymer“, for gay gamers. There was also a fight between two companies that specialize in party-planning for LGBT events over the trademarked term “Gay Days.” And now it appears that Pride Toronto, a non-profit that hosts Pride Week events, is attempting to register the names of two marches with the Canadian government.

Pride Toronto, the not-for-profit organization that hosts the popular Pride Week festivities each year, filed trademark applications for “Dyke March” and “Trans* Pride” on July 8, according to the Canadian Intellectual Property Office website. In a statement posted online, Pride Toronto depicted the filings as a defensive measure, saying it was “forced” to apply because a “single individual threatened to personally trademark both of these grassroots events.”

And this is where the problem with trademark comes in. If we take Pride Toronto at its word, and indeed the post includes communications from Pride Toronto insisting it will not hold the terms hostage for other marches to use, then the need for a defensive trademark application is a symptom of a broken system. Pride Toronto isn’t fearful of any kind of customer confusion. In fact, broad usage of the terms for other Pride events across the world would likely be a boon for Pride Toronto’s goals. No, they’re afraid of someone else locking up the term and preventing them from using it.

And that means that, at least in this specific case, the system has broken. The idea behind trademark is essentially in the nature of consumer protection in the form of brand identification. Nothing about the actions taken by Pride Toronto has anything to do with consumers; it’s all fear of language locks. Now, there are several ways to fix this. Common law with respect to trademarks would serve to protect Pride Toronto should someone come along and try to keep them from using the terms by registering them with the government, by allowing for prior use to serve as a defense. That said, it’s still a defense, meaning that Pride Toronto would still have to fight for its use in court.. Having government trademark offices that actually bothered to spend some brain cells examining the terms in applications and refusing marks for generic terms, terms of advocacy, terms of broad usage, would be helpful as well.

As for Pride Toronto, many other LGBT groups expressed outrage at the trademark applications, resulting in some being assured the applications would be withdrawn.

The terms “Dyke March” and “Trans Pride” are employed by activists across the country, some of whom were upset to learn of Pride Toronto’s gambit. In British Columbia, organizers of the Vancouver Dyke March issued a press release Saturday saying they were “stunned” to learn the Toronto group had registered to own their name, slamming the move as “appropriative.” But on Monday, VDM president Catherine Mateosaid Pride Toronto has since “reached out” and guaranteed that it will drop the applications. “If they follow through, as we believe they will, we’re satisfied,” she said.

Look, language is important, and perhaps some of the most important language we have is that expended in the service of civil rights. Whatever position you might have on LGBT rights, it simply doesn’t make sense for members of their community to lock up advocacy language. And the fear that leads some to try, the fear of the language being locked up by a party without their interests in mind, means at the very least that some tweaking is needed in the law.

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Comments on “Pride Toronto Seeking To Trademark Names Of 2 LGBT Marches, Claims It's Doing So Defensively”

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mattshow (profile) says:

And that means that, at least in this specific case, the system has broken.

Not that I don’t think trademarks get misused, but I don’t think this is evidence of a broken system, at least not yet. The “single individual” just threatened to trademark the terms. Pride TO has applied for a trademark over those terms. But so far, no one has actually been granted a trademark. It’s still very possible that the trademark office will reject the application, whether it comes from Pride TO or the mysterious individual… in which case the system will be working exactly like you’d want it to.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I’m going to have to disagree with you on that.
At the moment they’re having to apply for a trademark they don’t want and hoping they can’t get it because the mark is ruled generic.
A functioning system would have seen them applying directly for some kind of ruling that those terms were generic and could be used by anyone, protecting the mark by assuring its future free use.

From the point of view where they can’t directly request the outcome they’re hoping to achieve, the system is indeed broken.

Anonmylous says:

This could have been a great opportunity to expose the silliness of the trademark system and litigious nature of fools. The only thing I think they made a mistake in doing was failing to get another organization to file an appeal against the applications rather than withdrawing them. A friendly competitor agreeing beforehand to block the application (on the grounds the terms are common use) would have actually done far more to insure these terms remained free to use instead of being “locked”, and would not leave the terms exposed to malicious idiots like the one threatening to do it in the first place if Pride Toronto didn’t.

TDR says:

Welcoming? Tell that to the Christian business owners being harassed by the LGBT lobby merely for acting in accordance with their own beliefs and being forced to shut down their business rather than have those beliefs respected. Yet the LGBT shouts to have their own respected at any cost. I always wondered why our society bends into such contortions over the nattering of a very vocal and aggressive minority that only makes up around 2% of the population but tries to make itself seem much bigger than it really is. Why should we be dictated to like that?

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I always wondered why our society bends into such contortions over the nattering of a very vocal and aggressive minority that only makes up around 2% of the population …

That’s Canada’s multicult in action. We have chosen, for good or ill, to not accept “tyranny by the majority”, and as a recognized minority they get the right to do things just like the majority gets to do things. This “thing” is going to happen, which means they need this space to do it in, so they get the space and you shut down until they’re done when you can then go back to using it. Would it be better to offer them exclusive right to some other space to do it in (ie. a public park) instead of the street in front of your business? I think so.

Tyranny by minority is no better than by majority, but how that gets worked out can certainly be done better. You don’t deserve to have your rights denied just because we’re recognizing theirs. Talk to your city counselors.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Haha, you think TDR is actually talking about something related to the actual topic of the article! That’s cute.

They’re clearly not talking about a pride parade. Pretty sure they’re obliquely alluding to Christian bakeries discriminating against LGBT customers and refusing to sell them wedding cakes, or something, and thus being… “forced” to shut down lest they sell gay people a cake?

Yet Another Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

So why don’t they just sniff contemptuously, turn on their heels and go take their business elsewhere? I’ve never understood that.

They could even complain about it on their social media and stuff. But don’t go creating a society in which “State-approved” beliefs prevail and if you fall foul of the system you risk being fined or jailed.

I thought people had a right to be jerks. Or are they only allowed to be jerks to some people? I don’t like the idea of being forced to do something you don’t want to do because a special interest group insists that it’s YOU who does it.

Yes, I get the hotels and restaurant Jim Crow thing, but where there are choices let the market sort it out. That’s its job.

tqk (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Christians get the benefitts of the first amendment, too.

That would be lovely if true. Sadly, this is Canada we’re talking about here. You know, a US Constitution free zone, so to speak.

However, we’ve got multicult laws galore, so even microscopically small minorities are just as big legally as the most odious tyrants (assuming they’re not the parliamentary majority in which case all bets are off).

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