If It Please The Court, or the UK Patent Office, as the Case May Be…

Seems pretty clearcut to me...This business with the Office of the UK Secretary of Defense turns out to be stranger than I thought. Esquire found several links, shown below, that shed interesting light on the affair. It appears that red, white, and blue roundels have been a popular fashion accessory in England for quite some time (remember the Mods, the 1960s, and the Who?). Recognizing this, the Office has been making what can only described as an extremely belated attempt to prevent clothing stores from using this emblem. Their website suggests this is intended to protect the dignity of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, but one of their spokesman rather gave the game away when she ‘admitted the MoD was also interested in the commercial potential of owning the trademark.’

There two ironies to this situation. First, the RAF doesn’t even use that insignia. It was retired sometime before WW-II in favor of one with red, white, blue, and yellow circles, but apparently England’s classical education system no longer includes that bit about Aesop, dogs, and mangers. Second, the RAF quite clearly lost this one. In a landmark legal decision back in 2004, the UK Patent Office said, in effect, “Sorry chaps, but Pete Townsend and his lads beat you to it. You can’t claim trademark protection for that ‘target device’ when it’s used on clothing.” Then, to drive the point home, the judge ordered them to pay the majority of the court costs. The decision is worth reading. Beneath all the dry legal wording, one cannot help but suspect the magistrate was struggling not to laugh, particularly in clauses 71 and 72.

This hasn’t stopped the Office from fighting a futile rear-guard action in defense of other consumer goods. As of 2009, they were trying to prevent the Next department store chain from selling boy’s bedspreads marked with those threatening WW-I roundels. Wow! Judging from the commentary this produced, I suspect the attempt has caused far more damage to the ‘dignity of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces’ than commercial sales of some a retired military insignia ever could. (“Never have so many laughed so hard at so few,” etc.)

Why, then, did they come after our t-shirts when the UK legal system had already decided against them? It’s possible they felt the UK decision might not apply in the US, but a more likely explanation is official harassment. There might well be some hapless underclerk whose job it is to search the Internet for sellers like Zazzle, who can be counted on to a) not know about the decision in question and b) be unwilling to fight back, and jump all over them. After spending quite some time at an organization that has forgotten more about bureaucracy than the Office of the UK Secretary of Defense will ever know, and also flew much faster aircraft (Panavia Tornado: Mach 2.2. Space Shuttle: Mach 23. Neener neener neener), I’m not too terribly curious about the matter. But I cannot help but wonder how they find… ahem… ‘targets’ for their ill-fated crusade. Do they pay staff to search millions of Web sites by hand? Do they have a Roundel Watch program for anonymous informers? Or do they have some pattern recognition software — which can’t be very well-written if it confuses grey insignia with red, white, and blue ones — that searches the Web for… drum roll please… illicit circles?

One Response to “If It Please The Court, or the UK Patent Office, as the Case May Be…”

  1. Matt Povah says:

    Seems there are no end to the bureaucratic legions seeking to impose their will on anyone they have the slightest opportunity to attack with frivolous litigation. Sadly, we are living in an era of frivolous litigation. It is a result of judges and lawyers seeking ever greater importance for their sad and tired profession via toleration of ever-increasing foolishness in the courts, which in turn allows them to impose their will on society, while denying even the slightest bit of common sense for the populace. There should be greater oversight over what the courts and people who bring frivolous lawsuits can and cannot do. Frivolous lawsuiters and people who falsely accuse thers of abuse should get jail, imho. Unfortunately, in general, we have a very cynical injustice system rather than a justice system.

    Slash soapbox. Love your writings. Am a big fan of airships and airship-related things in general. Have developed plans for an aluminum airframe, kevlar clad hydrogen airship with solar-panels mounted all around the outer hull, with electrical engines, gel and lithium ion battery arrays, hydrogen fuel cells, on-board electrolysis, and the ability to use the engines as wind generators to charge the batteries in low-battery situations… The transportation of the future? I sure hope so!

    Matt

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