Stealing language

A judge in Cal­i­for­nia recent­ly remind­ed Play­boy Inc. that the own­ers of trade­marks can’t ‘remove a word from the Eng­lish lan­guage’ sim­ply because the word may form part of a trade­mark. In this case, the claim was that the use of Google adwords ‘play­boy’ and ‘play­mate’ by indi­vid­u­als oth­er than the plain­tiff dilut­ed the ben­e­fits of it’s trade­mark. (see “Slashdot”: bq. “Although the trade­mark terms and the Eng­lish lan­guage words are undis­put­ed­ly iden­ti­cal, which, pre­sum­ably, leads plain­tiff to believe that the use of the Eng­lish words is akin to use of the trade­marks, the hold­er of a trade­mark may not remove a word from the Eng­lish lan­guage mere­ly by acquir­ing trade­mark rights in it.” (min­utes of the deci­sion from “AOL Legal”: The Court of Appeals has appar­ent­ly allowed Play­boy Inc. to take its com­plaint fur­ther. How­ev­er the prin­ci­ple to which the orig­i­nal dec­sion refers is, in my view, uncon­tro­ver­sial and goes to the heart of the prob­lem with the EU’s objec­tives on the exten­sion of Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tions[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry].
The effect of the Geo­graph­i­cal Indi­ca­tions pro­vi­sions of Arti­cle 23 of the WTO Agree­ment on Trade Relat­ed Intel­lec­tu­al Prop­er­ty Rights (TRIPS) is to sequester terms asso­ci­at­ed with cer­tain wines and spir­its so that they may not be used by un-autho­rized par­ties whether or not this use actu­al­ly mis­leads con­sumers.

So, in most coun­tries in the world you can’t use ‘Cham­pagne’ as a term on a bot­tle of sparkling wine made using the méth­ode cham­p­enoise unless it is autho­rized by the French author­i­ties who ‘own’ the GI. You can’t even use it on a label that makes it clear that the wine is not from the French province of Cham­pagne. “Aus­tralian Champagne”—some which is made by hous­es such as Chan­don not a hour’s dri­ve from my home—is a for­bid­den term. The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion is plan­ning[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] to steal dozens of terms that are in wide­spread uses as part the ordi­nary lan­guage of food (‘fet­ta’, ‘parme­san’ etc) if it can get agree­ment to the exten­sion of the nox­ious Arti­cle 23 of TRIPS to prod­ucts oth­er than wine and spir­its.  In my pre­sen­ta­tion[⇒ relat­ed sto­ry] to the San Fran­cis­co WIPO Sem­i­nar on GI’s last year, I argued that this exces­sive pro­tec­tion is bur­den­some to con­sumers, un-nec­es­sary for pro­duc­ers and cost­ly to main­tain par­tic­u­lar­ly for devel­op­ing countries.

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