For many, the phrase “Je suis Charlie” represents a solemn show of solidarity with those who were killed on January 7, 2015, at the offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo in Paris, France. For others, it presented a lucrative business opportunity. In fact, the next day after the deadly attack, on January 8, 2015, a Belgian resident by the name of Yanick Uytterhaegen filed a trademark application with the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP) for the mark JE SUIS CHARLIE.
Uytterhaegen is essentially attempting to gain exclusive rights to use of the mark JE SUIS CHARLIE in connection with a host of applied-for goods and services, including laundry and cleaning products, printed materials, clothing, footwear, games, and beverages. More specifically, Uytterhaegen applied for the entire Nice Classification headings in International Classes 3, 16, 25, 28, 32, 35, and 38. The application was published for opposition on January 12, 2015, and will be open for third-parties to oppose the filing until March 12, 2015.
This is not the first time that people attempt to exploit a tragic event to their benefit. In the United States, for example, several applicants attempted to trademark BOSTON STRONG in the wake of the Boston Marathon bombings of 2013. Just a few weeks ago, a Chicago-area resident filed a U.S. trademark application for I CAN’T BREATHE, a reference to the death of Eric Garner who was heard saying “I can’t breathe” during an altercation with police before he died.
Many trademark attorneys are skeptical as to the likelihood of success of these types of applications. JE SUIS CHARLIE has come to signify an event and may not be perceived as capable of serving as a source identifier. This was one of the stock objections to the plethora of 9/11 applications filed in the U.S. following the 2001 terrorist attacks. JE SUIS CHARLIE could also be understood to falsely suggest some sort of official connection with organized relief efforts following the attack.
Over and above these considerations, there is also the matter of public perception. How likely are consumers to warm up to a brand that seems intended to generate private profit on the back of an atrocity?