Superman KOs “superman workout”

DC Comics, the owner of rights to the, er, man of steel character, has successfully blocked an attempt the register “superman workout” for “conducting exercise classes; fitness and exercise clinics, clubs and salons; health club services (exercise)” in class 41. It did have to appeal from the Registrar of Trade Marks to the Federal Court and it did not win for the reasons you might think.

Like the Registrar, Bennett J rejected DC Comics’ opposition based on s 60. Her Honour accepted that the superhero was indeed well-known, but noted that the term “superman” was also an ordinary English word defined as such in both the Macquarie and Oxford Dictionaries:

[49] …. the use of the word “superman” in the Trade Mark is, or has become, descriptive. Use of a word originally associated with a particular trade source, may over time become descriptive of a class of goods or characterisations.

[50] When the Trade Mark is used without reference to any of the well known indicia associated with the DC Comics superhero and as contained in the registered Trade Mark or other trade marks registered by DC Comics, there is no likelihood that use of the Trade Mark would be likely to deceive or cause confusion by reference to the Superman word mark, or the subject matter of DC Comics’ registered trade marks. The public would not be caused to wonder whether “superman workout” came from the same source as the Superman character or DC Comics.

Accordingly, there was no real, tangile danger of people confusing use in relation to fitness workouts with the superhero.

When Cheqout began using “superman workout”, however, it also used it with this logo:

cheqout logo
cheqout logo

Bennett J was willing to infer that this logo was being used to strengthen the allusion to the Man of Steel and so appropriate the benefit of DC Comics’ reputation for Cheqout’s fitness services. That was not in accordance with acceptable commercial standards and so the application was made in bad faith contrary to s 62A.

In reaching that conclusion, Bennett J adopted the approach previously taken by Dodds-Streeton J in the Tennis Warehouse case. Bennett J emphasised that Dodds-Streeton J rejected a submission that exploitative conduct alone could never constitute ‘bad faith’. Rather, it was the particular circumstances of that case, especially the US company’s failure to follow up its demands for 2 years.

DC Comics v Cheqout Pty Ltd [2013] FCA 478

The value of descriptive ‘trade marks’?

Lea Lewin looks at why Virgin lost its opposition (in the Office) to Qantas‘ attempt to register

ALL DAY, EVERY DAY, LOW FARES

in the face of Virgin’s ‘trade mark’ for:

EVERY DAY LOW FARES

Unfortunately, Virgin’s ‘trade mark’ doesn’t exactly leap off its website (or the evidence it filed).

Given Qantas is on the verge of registration (and apparently using its ‘mark’ through Jetstar), I can see why Virgin would want one too. Duets looks at some reasons from a US perspective and some other things to think about.

But, surely the real question here, is how can any trade mark system allow anyone to register either (purely descriptive) ‘mark’?