Following the November ’15 terror attacks in Paris, the French Trademark Office (“INPI”) received and subsequently
rejected numerous attempts of registration of the signs “Pray For Paris” and “Je Suis Paris” (“I am Paris”).
The refusals were justified on the ground that “these signs consisted in terms which may not be monopolized by an
economic actor due to their use and perception by the collectivity”.
This position differed from the one expressed after the January 7, 2015 attacks against Charlie Hebdo, where the attempts to register “Je Suis Charlie” (“I Am Charlie”) had been refused on public order grounds. Further to Articles L711-1 and L711-3 of the French Intellectual Property Code, a sign has to be distinctive, available and lawful to be registered. The INPI Director’s decision dated November 20, 2015 retained the unlawfulness of the applied signs, considering their perception by the public.
From a European point of view, such refusal could also be admitted on the ground of Article 7.1.f of the Community
Trademark Regulation. However, if the French decision appears politically appropriate, its basis may be seen as legally weak. Indeed, the words themselves are not unlawful, while their relations to terrorist attacks, and the intent to market on such events, could be interpreted as an offense to public order.
The INPI based its interpretation on the very nature of the trademark, which is “to distinguish goods and services”
without confusion as to their origins, as per Article L711-1 of the French Intellectual Property Code.
In the meantime, “Pray For Paris” and “#PrayForParis” have been respectively registered in the UK in 2013 (and
consequently without pre-existing relation to the November ’15 events) and applied for in Germany the day following the event.
It remains to be seen if a common European position emerges from the tragedy.
First publication: K&L Gates Trademark and Unfair Competition Bulletin, 01/2016 with Audrey Decima