September 2017. The Board of Appeal of European Trademark Office EUIPO has concluded that the word ‘Brexit’ can be registered as a European trademark for soft drinks, beer and cigarettes. The EUIPO had previously refused the application on the grounds that the word could offend the 48% of British citizens who voted against the islands leaving the EU.
DISSOLVES IN HUMOUR
The UK applicant, Brexit Drinks Ltd, successfully lodged an appeal against this decision. According to the BOA, the word ‘Brexit’ is neither morally reprehensible nor insulting, merely the name of a political decision and nothing to do with discrimination, hate, racism or sexism. In fact, as a trademark for beer or cigarettes, ‘the political controversial message of ‘BREXIT’ dissolves in Humour’.
So there it is – and why not? Brexit beer is a perfectly good brand name. In any case, if we were to refuse to register trademarks in Europe simply because they could offend a section of the population, where would it end? There’s always someone somewhere who’ll feel insulted.
The BOA also pointed out that the European ‘tolerance threshold’ differed from country to country. It illustrated the argument with the word ‘Jesus’, which was refused as a trademark in the UK but accepted without demur in the Benelux.
TRIX IS NIX
It’s true that the Benelux is extremely liberal on this point. Which is appropriate, certainly for the Netherlands, where trademarks are almost never refused for being potentially insulting. A rare example of such a refusal was Trix is Nix, which was submitted as a test case in 1996 by an anti-monarchist action group. (Trix is the abbrevation of Beatrix, the name of the Dutch queen in these days. Trix is Nix means: Trix is Nothing). As part of the same series of test applications, however, the trademark Lul de Behanger [Asshole Painting & Wallpapering] to denote the services of a painting and wallpapering firm was accepted without question.
Returning to the Brexit issue, the EUIPO had initially also stated that as a trademark, Brexit was not only potentially insulting but also not distinctive, and would only be seen as a ‘motto for the UK’s EU withdrawal process’ and not as a trademark. Fortunately, that argument was also rejected by the BOA. Brexit is of course more than distinctive enough as a trademark for products such as beer and cigarettes.