Greek Trademark Office rejects application containing an expletive
Evangelia Sioumala of Patrinos & Kilimiris considers the morals of the story as the Greek examiner takes a conservative stance regarding a trademark application involving the f-word
In a decision of the Greek Trademark Office issued in January 2023, the examiner considered whether the registration of a trademark containing the word “fuck” is contrary to the accepted principles of morality and the public order.
Specifically, the applicant filed an application for the word trademark ‘fuckmyart’ to cover clothes in class 25.
The Greek examiner rejected the registration of the trademark on the basis of absolute grounds due to this being contrary to public policy and to accepted principles of morality, ruling that the Greek translation of the above trademark “has an abusive and blasphemous content that offends public order, morals and accepted moral principles in relation to the fundamental values and standards that Greek society adheres to”.
In relation to the examiner’s decision, it could be argued that the registration of the trademark ‘fuckmyart’ does not offend the public order or morals since the word “fuck” when referring to an object or to any intangible good, such as “art” in the present case, cannot have a literal offensive meaning but could only have a rather euphemistic sense, meaning “destroy my art”.
Furthermore, it should also be noted that the f-word is widely used in Greece, especially among younger people, who are very familiar with the use of many English slang words and habitually include them in their normal vocabulary, without considering them to be offensive, having the meaning of “damn”, “let it go” or “ignore it”.
The Fack Ju Göhte case and other applications
In the above context, C-240/18, concerning ‘Fack Ju Göhte’, should also be considered. The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decided that to assess whether the trademark is in opposition to the public order or morals, it must, at the time of the examination, be perceived by the relevant public as contrary to the fundamental moral values and standards of society as they exist at that time (C-240/18, Section 41).
Said examination is to be based on the perception of a reasonable person with average thresholds of sensitivity and tolerance, taking into account the context in which the mark may be encountered. To that end, elements such as legislation and administrative practices, public opinion and, where appropriate, the way in which the relevant public has reacted in the past to that sign or similar signs, as well as any other factor which may make it possible to assess the perception of that public, are relevant (C-240/18, Section 42).
Based on the above, the court found that despite the assimilation of the term “Fack ju” to the English phrase “Fuck you”, this was not perceived as morally unacceptable by the German-speaking public at large and the perception of that English phrase by the German-speaking public is not necessarily the same as the perception thereof by the English-speaking public, since sensitivity in the mother tongue may be greater than in a foreign language (C-240/18, Section 68).
In line with the above decision, the trademark application ‘Fucking Awesome’ was similarly not considered to be offensive but rather as having a vulgar message that would be understood by the relevant public as a promotional expression (see CJEU T-178/22, Section 29).
Finally, with regard to the word “fuck” in particular, a few EU trademark applications have been registered by the EUIPO including said term, such as: ‘Rich as fuck’, ‘Fucking hell’, ‘Unfuck the economy’ and ‘Comme des fuckdown’.
In relation to the examination of whether a trademark application is in opposition to the public order and morals, the general context in which the trademark is found, as well as the perception of a reasonable person who is not exceptionally puritanical, should be taken into account. Nevertheless, the Greek examiner in the present case seems to have adopted a rather conservative view, providing a stricto sensu interpretation of the word “fuck”.
Unfortunately, the examiner’s decision was not appealed by the applicant and therefore the chance the trademark had to be examined by a higher body, and therefore proceed to a more thorough examination, was missed.