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New UK trade mark applications for BLACK LIVES MATTER and I CAN’T BREATHE spark outrage – and they have now been withdrawn

17th Jun 2020

Following the killing of US citizen George Floyd by the police,  thousands have joined protesters all over the world to march with the Black Lives Matter organised movement, which protests against racial injustice and police brutality against the black community.

In the wake of these events, a Manchester businessman by the name of George Demetriou filed an UK trade mark application for the mark “Black Lives Matter” (in various fonts as a series of four marks in one application). This application covers Class 25 for a variety of clothing goods. Full details of this application can be seen on the Intellectual Property Office website here. Mr Demetriou also filed a UK trade mark application for the mark “I can’t breathe”, (again in a variety of fonts as a series of three marks in one application). These are the words that were spoken by George Floyd before he was killed, and is an expression that has been used by multiple black victims of police brutality. This application covers, amongst other goods, Class 14 for charity bracelets, Class 25 for a variety of clothing, and Class 36 for fundraising services.

Understandably, this decision by Mr Demetriou to file trade mark applications for these two marks has sparked outrage across the UK: the WTR reports several tweets and retweets on Twitter and even a petition on the website (a petition website for social change) to stop these trade mark applications from progressing. In light of this, the UK Intellectual Property Office have issued comment via Twitter to reassure the public as to how trade mark applications are examined by the Office and that if the application does progress to the next stage, they would welcome the public to file observations in relation to the application. These can be filed at any point before the application is registered.

A trade mark is a badge of origin. It has to be distinctive in order to be capable of protection. “Black Lives Matter” is a movement that has existed for the past 7 years. It is well-known on a worldwide basis and therefore arguably cannot be monopolised by anyone other than the founders of the movement itself. With regard to the mark “I can’t breathe”, we would have expected that there would be a public policy and morality argument surrounding this application.  We see that both trade mark applications have been withdrawn today.

We also note that another third party, OMW Management Ltd, has filed a UK trade mark application for BlackLivesMatter as a certification mark covering Class 16 for Advertisement boards of paper or cardboard; Advertising posters; Art pictures; Baby books [storybooks]; Decoration and art materials and media; Writing materials.

Certification marks are specific types of trade marks that confirm the guarantee that the product or service meets a particular standard or characteristic. The mark “BlackLivesMatter” does not meet this criteria and therefore, we would expect the UK IP Office to reject this application on this basis.

The UK is not the only country where third parties are trying their luck at the Intellectual Property Office. A Spanish individual has filed an EU trade mark application (no.  018255264) for BLACK LIVES MATTER covering, among other things, sex aids; sporting articles; non-alcoholic and alcoholic beverages; telecommunication services.

Another party has also filed an EU trade mark application (no. 018251514) for “George Floyd” covering cannabis and cannabis plants. There have been two other applications for “George Floyd” filed in the UK and EU but these have subsequently been withdrawn.

We watch with interest as to the fate of these remaining active applications.

This article is for general information only. Its content is not a statement of the law on any subject and does not constitute advice. Please contact Reddie & Grose LLP for advice before taking any action in reliance on it.

Hannah Burrows
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Would you like to know more? You can talk to Hannah Burrows who will be able to help. Call (0)20 7242 0901


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