January 20, 2015

Guest Post! Attempts to Register JE SUIS CHARLIE Miss the Mark

Check out this guest post from our "brother blog" OP-IP and written by Stephen J. Weyer

At last count, over 120 trademark applications have been filed in the French trademark office for the phrase "JE SUIS CHARLIE." Included is an application by Joachim Roncin who is a graphic designer in Paris who claims that he is the true creator of the now ubiquitous phrase and the graphic design (shown below) of JE SUIS (white) above CHARLIE (gray) on a square black background.

Je Suis Charlie
The French trademark office, the INPI, issued a press release (in French) saying that it has rejected over 50 registrations based on a "lack of distinctiveness" in the phrase. Translation: (into both English and plain non-legalese language), the phrase, "JE SUIS CHARLIE", does not qualify for trademark protection since the phrase is "too general" and not associated with (or identify) a specific origin (originator, owner) of goods or services. As reported by a colleague, Amy Cahill of a sister publication of OP-IP, Trademarkology, in her article "Lawyers Make Good Lovers", it is not always so easy to secure trademark protection for slogans and phrases. Examples of registered trademark phrases/slogans which are associated with a good or service include "You deserve a break today" and "i'm lovin' it" both for McDonald's and "JUST DO IT" for Nike.

Although JE SUIS CHARLIE may miss the mark for trademark protection, Joachim Roncin has other intellectual property protection avenues to pursue. For example, the JE SUIS CHARLIE logo (shown above) is entitled to copyright protection for the artistic expression of the layout, e.g. the white font JE SUIS over gray CHARLIE on black square background. In addition, design registration (e.g. European design registration (OHIM) and U.S. design patent protection) may be available to cover the design if applied to a specific article of manufacture or product.