Applications to register trade marks associated with tragic or notorious events seem to be increasingly common. Take for instance the previously reported application for MH370 by Aoan International Pty Ltd just 4 days after the Malaysia Airlines plane went missing an hour after take-off or the attempt by Remit Now Int’l Ltd to register MH17, the flight number of the Malaysian Airline plane, a day after it was shot down over the Ukraine. BlackJack Merchandising Pty Ltd applied to register 63 NOT OUT 3 days after the death of Australian cricketer Philip Hughes and just last week within 24 hours of the massacre of staff atCharlie Hebdo magazine, a Belgian national lodged an application in Benelux for ‘Je suis Charlie’, the slogan adopted by supporters of free speech and freedom of expression.

In Australia, the Trade Marks Office has expedited examination of these opportunistic applications and issued early rejections. Early indications are that the Benelux office will also reject the application for Je suis Charlie on public policy grounds.

While the registration authorities are moving to deal with these applications quickly, companies behind threatened brands are also taking steps to prevent misuse of signs associated with their services. Malaysian Airlines has filed its own application to register MH17 as a trade mark presumably to stop others from misusing it. In future, companies and businesses may need to consider trade marks as part of any disaster management plan to prevent opportunistic third parties from exploiting such incidents for their commercial advantage.