After the terrorist attack on Charlie Hebdo in January 2015, the French Trademark Office received so many applications for “JE SUIS CHARLIE” that the Office issued a statement in which it warned that it would not register any of these marks. The reason given at that time by the Office was that, because of the widespread use of the slogan, it lacked distinctiveness.
We commented that it was very unusual for the Office to issue this kind of general statement, since normally the validity of a trademark has to be assessed on a case by case basis, taking into account the nature of the goods and services, as well as other factors. We also opined that a better legal ground for the Office’s position would be that, pursuant to article L.711-3 of the Intellectual Property Code, it would be contrary to public order (“Contraire à l’ordre public”) to allow any person to acquire IP rights in this slogan. “Public order” is a flexible concept which, for example, was used in 2003 to reject registration by a French political party of the slogan “Non à la Turquie en Europe” to express its opposition to Turkey becoming a member of the European Union.
A few hours after the terrorist attacks on November 13, the Office again received many applications, this time for “PRAY FOR PARIS” and “JE SUIS PARIS.” In response, the Office issued a statement in which it warned that it would reject these applications. This time, however, the Office indicated that these applications “appear contrary to public order” because “they are made of words which cannot be appropriated by any business entity by reason of their use and perception by the community in light of the events of Friday 13 November 2015”.
This is, in our view, a much stronger legal ground for the refusal to register these trademarks. There is a similar requirement for European Community trademarks that a mark should not be contrary to “public order.”