Back in January of this year, Techdirt reported on tobacco companies suing
a local Australian importer of their products for covering up part of their logos with a mandatory health warning. At the time, a spokeswoman for the company involved, British American Tobacco, said
As the matter is currently before the Court, BAT is unable to comment other than to say that this is a further demonstration that we will take all necessary steps to protect our valuable intellectual property.
Given that stance, it will come as no surprise to learn that tobacco companies are now threatening to take on the European Commission
EU Health Commissioner John Dalli will face legal action if he tries to reproduce Australia's plain-packaging proposals for cigarettes in Europe, a tobacco industry representative warned this week.
The approach is the same as in Australia:
One likely focus of attack is intellectual property rights, since plain packaging has a smothering effect on companies' logos and trademarks.
I'd like to think that the word "smothering" was taken verbatim from some tobacco company representative, because it sums up nicely the industry's attitude: that any breathing difficulties or respiratory diseases that you may develop as the result of smoking pale into insignificance compared with the outrageous "smothering" of their logos and trademarks.
That's a particularly callous attitude, because those logos and trademarks are only valuable to the degree they have been attached to products that have caused death and disease: the "best" brands are those with a track record of selling – and hence killing – more people than rival products. In effect, the tobacco companies are complaining that all their hard work getting people addicted and smoking themselves to death will be wasted if the plain-packaging proposals for cigarettes are implemented.
The cynical posturing of tobacco firms as the victims in these continuing attempts to undo and avoid the social harm they cause underlines once more how easily intellectual monopolies can be twisted for purposes far from any original justification they may once have had. Patents can kill
: so, it seems will trademarks, if tobacco companies get their way.
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