The slogan “JE SUIS CHARLIE” has swept the globe fuelled by supporters of freedom of expression following the Charlie Hebdo magazine terrorist attack in Paris on 7th January 2015. Sadly opportunists are already trying to exploit this for commercial gain and attempts have been made in various countries to lay claim to the trade mark “JE SUIS CHARLIE”.
The first trade mark application was filed in Benelux Intellectual Property office just 24 hours after this tragic event and has caused widespread resentment amongst the public who see it as being immoral given the circumstances surrounding the slogan’s creation.
There is now debate as to whether these opportunistic applicants will succeed in their application to register the trade mark.

Article 3(1) (f) of the Trade Marks Directive (2008/95/EC) sets out a ground for refusal where the trade mark is contrary to public policy or accepted principles of morality. Although it may seem obvious to all of us that granting a commercial monopoly over a slogan that was created in such tragic circumstances would be incorrect and immoral, it is unclear whether or not the corresponding National Office would see this the same way. They must decide whether or not a trade mark is contrary to public policy or accepted principles of morality by looking at the intrinsic qualities of the trade mark applied for and not by the poor taste of the opportunistic person applying for the trade mark.

If the slogan is accepted as a trade mark and published by the Intellectual Property Office then owners of similar earlier trade marks may oppose to the registration if it clashes with the earlier rights. Charlie Hebdo magazine would be the most affected by the registration of this trade mark as the signs include a direct link to their magazine raising a high risk of likelihood of confusion with their magazine.

Furthermore, the term “JE SUIS CHARLIE” was created by Joachim Roncin, 30 minutes after the tragic event. This slogan could therefore also be protected by his copyright?
The issue in law is too complicated to be determined straightaway. However we believe that Intellectual Property Offices should reflect the views of their citizens and therefore condemn this opportunistic attempt at profiteering from the tragic events that affected the community as a whole.