I recently attended a colleague’s wedding, which, despite my inherent detestation of attending weddings, I found quite delightful. I was particularly touched by the lovely speech given by the bride’s father. Speaking from experience, the man had this to say to his new son-in-law, “a man who gives in when he is in the wrong is a wise man; a man who gives in when he is in the right is married.” True enough, we like to get our own way, especially if it is within our rights to do so. Many companies do this too, they zealously guard their rights and their possessions from being infringed or appropriated by others. But sometimes, a company’s troll-like possessiveness and over-the-top aggressiveness in pursuing the infringer may put the company in a bad light and ultimately its actions may affect the image of the company and the goodwill of its brand.
Have you ever tried to register for an email or social networking account? Chances are your first few choices of usernames had already been taken up by someone else. Naturally, you would end up with silly usernames like “HunnyBunny” or “VinnyPeach”, which my colleagues have recently informed me, were slightly suggestive in nature. If I had registered my real name before the other Vincent Tehs, I wouldn’t have had to suffer so many years of virtual sexual harassment. Things aren’t so different outside the virtual world either, our Singaporean neighbours, desperate for a place to sit after queuing up for centuries to procure their food in food courts, have resorted to “Chope-ing” (Singlish for “reserving”) tables by proxy with packets of tissue paper.
This first come, first served policy is also applicable in the corporate world. When a company is looking to go into a new territory or country, it would have to be sure that it has the Freedom to Operate. It has to be sure that its freedom to sell its goods/services is not curtailed by the prior Intellectual Property (IP) registration of a third party in the new territory. If the company is not careful, the sale of its products may be infringing upon the IP rights of others, with dire consequences.
“Beneath this mask there is more than flesh; beneath this mask there is an idea; and ideas are bulletproof,” said the masked vigilante in the movie “V for Vendetta” before snapping the neck of a corrupt politician. I was acting out the final fight sequence the other day (note to self: must get a life!), and as I was about to utter the above-mentioned line, I was intrigued by it. Could ideas really be protected? Can ideas be bulletproofed?
In this modern Information Age, ideas are held in higher regard than ever before. The global gold rush for new ideas and information, coupled with such limited supply, has led to huge corporations going to war with each other to secure monopoly of their ideas. Their weapon of choice is none other than stockpiles of Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs). The worldwide legal proceedings between Apple and Samsung are salient examples of an arms race of sorts where IPRs ranging from Patents to Trademarks, Copyrights to Industrial Designs are tossed into the fray.
By Lydia Rhanakumar
Disclaimer: Some words in this article may offend the sensitivities of certain individuals. Please exercise discretion when reading.
Intrigued? Well, you should be – the word means “having well-shaped buttocks” and is a registered trademark in the US! Now for those of you whose curiosity was aroused by the said word, let’s start from the very core of the matter by asking a rather valid question – can offensive trademarks be registered?
“Did you know Santa was invented by Coca-Cola? He’s actually a trademark of Coca-Cola, that’s why he’s always dressed in red and white, it’s the corporate colour,” I was told by a teenager recently. Naturally, my first reaction was to shrug it off as the wild imaginings of a precocious anti-establishment pubescent boy whose parents had told him when he was 3 that Santa did not exist. However, when I decided to look it up on the internet, I found that it is actually a very popular urban legend still believed by many to be true. Myth or fact, the episode did raise a good question – can you trademark a person?
Well the answer is yes and no. All of us look different every day, we change our clothes, our hair, our appearance, we grow fatter, skinnier, darker, fairer, older, saggier; our looks are not constant. While it is unthinkable that people can be a subject of trademark registrations, there are many things about a person that can be trademarked.
The process of starting or conducting business in a foreign land is hardly an easy task, especially if a company intends to build and spread its brand in that particular country. There are many aspects that the company or enterprise should consider, from operating costs to the local practices and even the languages of the country.
Linguistic considerations are especially important in building and also securing the rights of a company’s trademark and brand in the country. The company should always check the language in which the mark is likely to be used by local consumers, its proper translation and the commercial impact of adopting the country’s local transcript for the mark. Many businesses, as a result of failing to do this especially in countries that implement a “first-to-file” trademark registration system, have often unfortunately found themselves prey to “trademark pirates” and “copycats” and subsequently lost their rights to a valuable asset of a trademark. One case in point is the recent trademark clashes of iconic French high fashion house, Hermès, with a Guangdong province-based company known as Dafeng Garment Factory in China.
With the growth of research in the biotechnology field in many countries, the issue of using genetic resources of one country to develop new pharmaceutical drugs or chemical compounds and commercializing such products is of concern to many countries, especially those with large biodiversity resources.
China is seeing an increasing number of patent applications involving gene-based technologies. It is fitting then, that it has revised its Patent Laws relating to genetic resources used in an invention patent.
Modifications to the genetic material of an organism are generally targeted to improve or develop the characteristics found in these organisms. While this can potentially benefit humankind, researchers and society at large are concerned about the unknown effects of introducing these living modified organisms (LMOs) into the environment. LMOs are genetically modified (GM) organisms which are capable of self-replicating and can be a plant, animal or microorganism.
Realising that LMOs may have adverse effects on biodiversity, there was a need to address biosafety matters, which led to the establishment of the international regulatory framework known as the Cartagena Protocol on Biosafety. With the aim to encourage “safe trans-boundary movement, transit, handling and use of all living modified organisms that may have adverse effects on the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity, taking also into account risks to human health”, this Protocol was adopted on 29th January 2000 and enforced on 11th September 2003, establishing procedures and regulations for LMOs intended for environmental introduction or for direct use as processing, food or feed. The time was ripe for precautionary policies on such matters as not much was known about GM crops or organisms. Wide-scale commercialization of the produce thereof was therefore still a distant dream.
Celebrities are famed for their very name and personality – in many instances becoming brands in themselves – making it all the more crucial to protect their names, as well as the names they use as trademarks. Being public figures, they are usually sought after for endorsements, and their lavish livelihood is often more dependent on the royalties they receive from third parties than from their main career. It comes as no surprise then that copycats would want to associate their companies or products as that belonging to or endorsed by a celebrity, in order to confuse the public and ride on the celebrity’s fame. Trademark protection is, as such, essential to celebrities the world over, and what better way to illustrate this than to take a look at how celebrities from our very own shores are tackling the situation?
Bette Midler famously said, “Give a girl the correct footwear and she can conquer the world”. Looks like women have more than just beautiful shoes to thank Dato’ Jimmy Choo for then! Just the sight of the trademark “Jimmy Choo” is enough to send many a girl’s heart a-fluttering, and his shoes are adored and coveted by women all over the world. Better still, Dato’ Jimmy Choo is one of our own; he is a Malaysian shoe designer based in London, UK.
Malaysia, being one of the fast developing countries, has been showing keen interest in stem cell research and therapy. As the awareness in stem cell technology increases, issues like morals and ethics have been raised by various parties such as religious bodies and conservative organizations. These controversies do not only occur in Malaysia but also in other parts of the world where stem cell based work has long since been conducted.
On 10 March 2011, Yves Bot, one of the advocates general to the European Union’s Court of Justice (ECJ) in Luxembourg, recommended that the patenting of inventions which involve a use of embryonic stem cells should be prohibited.