The F-Word in Trademarks: Navigating registration of vulgar words

Registering trademarks that include vulgar words can be a challenging process, as it raises various legal and ethical concerns. As a result, trademark registration authorities often subject such applications to greater scrutiny, and the approval process can be more complicated and time-consuming. However, there are also cases where companies were ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining a trademark registration.

By

Igor Demcak

Recently yet another company, FA World Entertainment Inc, lost its fight to trademark 'Fucking Awesome' for products ranging from clothes to skateboards as Europe's second-highest court backed an EU patent body's argument that the phrase was not distinctive enough.

Despite their offensive nature, vulgar words can be an effective strategy to create a distinctive brand identity that stands out from competitors. Some businesses may use a vulgar word as a way to generate attention or create controversy, which can be effective in attracting customers and gaining publicity. In other cases, a vulgar word may have a specific meaning or connotation that is relevant to the products or services being offered. For example, a company that sells edgy or unconventional clothing may want to use a vulgar word in its trademark to convey a rebellious or non-conformist message.

However, due to its vulgar nature, many trademark offices around the world are reluctant to grant registrations for trademarks that include the F-word. Trademark offices are responsible for examining trademark applications to ensure that the marks meet certain criteria, such as distinctiveness, non-descriptiveness, and non-offensiveness. Trademarks that are considered to be vulgar, offensive, or immoral may be refused registration on the grounds that they violate public policy or morality.

The registration of trademarks that include variations of the F-word is a complex and nuanced issue that may depend on factors such as the context in which the mark is used and the specific jurisdiction in which the application is made. In the EU, the general principle is that trademarks must not be contrary to public policy or accepted principles of morality. This means that trademarks that are considered vulgar, offensive, or obscene may be refused registration. However, the EU Intellectual Property Office assesses each application on a case-by-case basis and takes into account various factors, such as the context in which the mark will be used and the perception of the mark by the relevant public. In the US, the USPTO has the authority to refuse registration of trademarks that are considered scandalous, immoral, or offensive. Trademarks that include variations of the F-word are often viewed as falling under this category.

Examples of F-word trademark applications

FCUK

In 2001, French Connection UK applied to register a trademark for "FCUK" in a stylized font. The application was initially refused by the UKIPO on the grounds that the mark was likely to offend public decency. However, the decision was later overturned on appeal, and the "FCUK" mark was ultimately registered. Subsequently, French Connection UK made several other attempts to register trademarks that included variations of the F-word, such as "FCHK" and "FNCUK." However, many of these applications were rejected by the UKIPO on the grounds that they were likely to offend public decency.

FCK PROJECT

In 2015, the Italian fashion brand FCK PROJECT attempted to register its trademark in the European Union, but the application was initially rejected by the EU Intellectual Property Office on the grounds that the mark was offensive and contrary to public policy. The brand appealed the decision, but the appeal was dismissed in 2019. Therefore, the FCK PROJECT brand was ultimately unsuccessful in obtaining an EU trademark registration for its name.

FUCT

The founder of the clothing brand FUCT, Erik Brunetti, attempted to register the brand name as a trademark in the United States, but the application was denied by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) due to its offensive nature. Brunetti appealed the decision to the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (TTAB), which also rejected the application on similar grounds. However, Brunetti then appealed the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit, which ultimately ruled in his favor in 2019. The court found that the federal prohibition on the registration of scandalous or immoral trademarks was an unconstitutional restriction on free speech, and that the USPTO's denial of the FUCT trademark registration was a violation of the First Amendment.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder & CEO of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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