KUALA LUMPUR, July 22 — In the wake of the MH17 tragedy, reports have already surfaced about cybercriminals taking advantage with fake Facebook pages being created in the name of victims, for money.
Now it appears opportunism has reared its ugly head in another way — Digital News Asia (DNA) has learnt that claims have been filed to trademark the terms “MH17” and “MH370”.
MH370 was the number of the Malaysian Airlines flight that inexplicably disappeared on March 8, remaining one of the aviation industry’s greatest mysteries. The Beijing-bound flight from Kuala Lumpur was carrying 12 crew members and 227 passengers, the majority of whom were China nationals. The search and rescue operation has yet to find remains of the craft.
Malaysia’s national carrier, already reeling from that disaster and a disappointing financial year, then experienced another disaster when Flight MH17 from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur was shot down over Ukrainian airspace on July 17, killing all 283 passengers and 15 crew on board.
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Details of the “MH17” filing, submitted on July 17 itself, were found on the European Trade Mark and Design Network website and the application is under examination. The “MH370” filing submitted on May 2 was found on the Justia Trademarks site, and according to the site, has yet to be assigned a case examiner.
According to available details, the same company, Seyefull Investments Limited, which is incorporated in Belize City, filed both applications.
Belize City is the largest city in the Central American country of Belize and was once the capital of the former British Honduras. It is located at the mouth of the Belize River on the coast of the Caribbean.
The scope of usages listed within both applications is wide ranging: From conferences, exhibitions and competitions; to education and instruction, and entertainment services (namely, the provision of continuing programmes, segments, movies, and shows delivered by television, radio, satellite and the Internet).
DNA columnist and intellectual property lawyer Foong Cheng Leong (pic) noted that trademark rights were limited to the goods and services chosen by the proprietor.
“Here, the applicant is registering the mark MH17 for all sorts of products in the European Union. By being the registered proprietor, they have the rights over the mark [when it comes to] the registered goods and services in the European Union.
“They may stop people from using the mark or ask for payment in the European Union,” he added.
Asked whether these trademark claims were the groundwork for potential “trademark trolling” efforts, Foong said that he would not be able to determine whether they were trademark trolls without a deep investigation into the entity in question.
“Trademark troll” is a pejorative term for any entity that attempts to register a trademark without intending to use it, and who then threatens to sue others who use that mark.
It is a different beast from a “patent troll”, also called a patent assertion entity (PAE), a person or company who enforces patent rights against accused infringers in an attempt to collect licensing fees, but does not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question, thus engaging in “economic rent-seeking”.
Claiming a stake in crisis
This is not the first time an attempt has been made to claim the intellectual property associated with a global event. Among the most notable was when a businessman named Moti Shniberg tried to trademark the term “September 11, 2001” ... on the day itself.
Shniberg said he had filed for the trademark for “charitable purposes”, but the US Patent and Trademark Office ultimately rejected the application. It was one of about two dozen reportedly filed trademarks related to the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in the United States.
Lawyers and trademark industry watchers DNA spoke to for this article noted that it was common for people to file trademarks based on words related to current affairs.
A trademark industry observer, who asked not to be named, said that such filings were “fairly common, but also fairly pointless” because they were usually rejected, and led to bad public relations for the people or company that filed the trademark, as well as for the trademark industry as a whole.
He said that the case in question was “another sign of companies or individuals taking advantage of tragedies using the trademark register”.
“I don’t know the reason for these, it’s probably opportunistic from what I can tell — the fact the MH17 one was filed on Thursday definitely suggests that.
“My guess would be it’s a shell company of some kind. The company’s other trademark is for ‘Mata Hari 308’, which appears to be linked to this website that mentions MH370, and has the same image for its browser tab as the Seyefull website, so I think they’re linked,” he added.
Asked whether Malaysia Airlines (MAS) should be concerned about such moves, he pointed to another filing made by Aoan International Pty Ltd to register an Australian trademark for “MH370” in March, which is due to be accepted on July 30.
“However, it seems that Malaysia Airlines is concerned about this kind of thing because 10 days ago, [Malaysia Airlines] itself registered a trademark in Australia for ‘MH370’,” he said.
Additional checks also found that MAS had filed its own Community Trade Mark application for “MH17”. However, this was made yesterday, a few days after the application made by Seyefull.
“I do not know why [Malaysia Airlines] filed, but it may have been alerted by the company’s application or is trying to block others from registering the mark,” said Foong.
A corporate lawyer who also declined to be named for this article said that to her knowledge, there were corporations and individuals “who more often than not, seize the opportunity to register certain names when they sense the potential in future commercial exploitation”.
“Apart from applications for registration of a trademark, another area is the registration of domain names. The name ‘everyone can fly’ and ‘airasia’ have been rampantly applied by different individuals from all over the world,” she said.
She noted that at first glance, the most obvious reason why one would want to register “MH370” and “MH17” now was probably due to the potential of these events being made into movies or books.
“However, one should also question whether they infringe the rights owned by MAS in applying to register such a mark in the first place.
“Usually, the Registrar would not allow registration should it feel that this infringes the existing rights of another party. MAS still retains the common law proprietary rights in the mark,” she added. ― DNA
* This article was first published here.