from the trademark-the-planet dept
We cover a great many ridiculous and infuriating trademark disputes here, but it’s always the disputes around overly broad terms that never should have been trademarked to begin with that are the most frustrating. And that most irritating of those is when we get into geographic terms that never should be locked up by any single company or entity. Examples in the past have included companies fighting over who gets to use the name of their home city of “Detroit“, or when grocer Iceland Foods got so aggressive in its own trademark enforcement that the — checks notes — nation of Iceland had to seek to revoke the company’s EU trademark registration.
While it should be self-evident how antithetical to the purpose of trademark laws are to even approve of these kinds of marks, I will say that I didn’t see it coming that a company at some point would attempt to play trademark bully over the “planet.”
Powerful French entertainment company Canal Plus trademarked the term in France, but environmental groups are pushing back, saying they should be allowed to use the word “planet” to promote their projects to save it. Multiple cases are under examination by France’s intellectual property regulator INPI, including one coming to a head this week.
Canal Plus argues that the groups’ use of the terms “planete” in French, or “planet” in English, for marketing purposes violates its trademarks, registered to protect its Planete TV channels that showcase nature documentaries.
That this dispute is even a thing raises questions. Why in the world (heh) would any trademark office approve a mark solely on the word “planet”. Such a registration violates all kinds of rules and norms, explicit and otherwise. Geographic terms are supposed to have a high bar for trademark approval. Single word marks not inherently creative typically do as well. And, when trademarks for either are approved, they are typically done so in very narrow terms. That EUIPO somehow managed to approve a trademark that caused a film company to think it can sue or bully NGOs focused on environmental issues for using the word for the rock we all live on together should ring as absurd to anyone who finds out about it.
Certainly it did to those on the other end of Canal Plus’ bullying, as they seemed to think the whole thing was either a joke or attempt at fraud.
The head of environmental group Planete Amazone, Gert-Peter Bruch, thought it was a hoax when he first received a mail from Canal Plus claiming ownership of the planet brand. The group plans to release a documentary in February about the destruction of the Amazon forest and activists’ fight to try to prevent it. Bruch tried to register a trademark for the name of his group before the release of the movie, which is called “Terra Libre” and was made largely by volunteers.
“I honestly thought it was a fake at the beginning. I received an email from Canal Plus and I didn’t dare open the attachment because I thought it was a virus. So I called them to ask them whether their legal affairs department tried to contact me, they said yes,” Bruch told The Associated Press. “I read the letter with astonishment,” he said. “They were saying, ‘You don’t have the right to protect this brand (Planete Amazone), we are opposing it.'”
Bruch wasn’t the only one. What Canal Plus tends to argue in all of its threat letters is that public confusion could arise since the nature of each entity’s goods is similar to Canal Plus’. The company consists of a film and television studio and cable network that has put out movies such as Basic Instinct and The Pianist. What any of that has to do with environmental work is anyone’s guess, though perhaps part of the issue is that these NGOs are putting out films about saving the planet, sometimes using that term in titles and marketing. Still, all of that is a far cry from any real concern for customer confusion.
But, as we often note, trademark bullying tends to work. Bruch’s organization is hammering out a deal with Canal Plus in an effort to keep using the word “planet.” That shouldn’t have to occur, but it is. Other groups are waiting on a ruling from the French National Intellectual Property Institute in the hopes that someone somewhere will be sane about all of this.
If not, I guess Canal Plus gets to solely use the word “planet” on its small part of the planet. Again, if that is how this shakes out, it’s about as crazy as it gets.