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OPINION | Trying to trademark ‘Black Lives Matter’ is a whole new level of exploitation


’n Black Lives Matter-banier hang verlede week teen die Amerikaanse ambassade in Seoel, Suid-Korea. Die ambassadeur, Harry Harris, het op Twitter die hele ambassade se solidariteit met betogers in Amerika uitgespreek. Die banier is ná twee dae verwyder. Foto: AP

Can anyone lay claim to the slogan “Black Lives Matter?”There are currently 14 trademark applications filed in the United States, 8 in the UK and one in the EU. One of the trademarks applied for covers a wide range of goods and services – including sex toys and alcoholic beverages.But if the applications are successful, what are the implications for a global movement and for those who wish to show solidarity? asks the author.

Black Lives Matter. This
is a slogan which was coined years ago but, the death of George Floyd sparked
renewed interest in the movement across the globe and many are laying claim to
it. 

With 14 trade mark applications recently filed in the United States,
eight in the United Kingdom and one in the European Union for Black Lives Matter,
many are seeking to monopolise the slogan to promote their own interests, to
market their own goods and services. 

It is with some relief that we note no one
in South Africa has tried to file for trademark protection. Well, not
yet, anyway.

Surely
a slogan which is descriptive of a global movement should remain one which is
free for all of us to use to show our solidarity?

The
teams in the premier league showed their solidarity by having the words BLACK
LIVES MATTER printed on their shirts, but Troy Deeney, soccer star at
Watford, and his partner, Alisha Hosannah, are the applicants of one of the
applications filed in the United Kingdom.

They filed for protection of the mark
on 11 June in respect of clothing, advertising and marketing services. 

Their trade mark incorporates a logo well known and used by many of us,
particularly in South Africa: that of a clenched fist. They have inserted it in
place of the letter “a” in the word “black”. 

Again,
no one can claim a monopoly to a logo which is commonly used to indicate
solidarity, one which has become so common that it is an emoji. 

On another level

One
cannot help but think back to the beginning of Covid-19, when opportunists were
rushing to register trademarks incorporating “Covid” and “Corona”, but trying to exploit “Black Lives Matter” takes it to another
level. 

Incidentally, the
application in the European Union has been applied for in relation to a wide
range of goods and services, including sex toys and alcoholic beverages.

Black Lives Matter cannot be monopolised. It cannot be used to distinguish your goods and
services from those of others. Use it for its intended purpose. Use it to
show your solidarity.

Bernadette Versveld is a partner at Webber Wentzel. Views expressed are her own.

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