The EU’s trademark court, EUIPO (European Union Intellectual Property Office), ruled against Banksy’s struggle to protect his iconic images from being reproduced on shoddy merchandise.
The present case was about the Laugh Now image, which Banksy’s handling agent Pest Control Office (PCO) had registered as a trademark in November 2018. A year later, a UK-based greeting card company, Full Colour Black Limited, applied for the cancellation of the trademark. EUIPO has now ruled in favor of the greeting card company, and decided that the Laugh Now trademark is “invalid in its entirety.” In September 2020, EUIPO invalidated Love is in the Air (or, Flower Thrower) as a trademark. And there are more trademark disputes to come.
The main argument in the ruling is that a trademark holder must actively market and sell products with the trademark. EUIPO considers that Banksy and PCO haven’t done that: “From an examination of the evidence filed by both parties it would appear that, at the time of filing of the application for invalidity, the proprietor (or Banksy) had never actually marketed or sold any goods or services under the contested Trademark”. Banksy’s GDP selling exhibition in Croydon in October 2019 ( www.grossdomesticproduct.com ) was an attempt to prove to EUIPO that Banksy does indeed sell products under the disputed trademarks. But, EUIPO considers the GDP exhibition a way to circumvent the law, and not a genuine effort to sell trademarked goods.
The greeting card company didn’t waste much time after the EUIPO ruling. Screenshots from http://www.fullclourblack.com
In one of the sections in the ruling, EUIPO shows a clear lack of knowledge: EU’s trademark court alleges that Banksy, “for the most part paints graffiti on other people’s property rather than to paint it on canvases or his own property”. What about the 1000+ studio pieces, many of them canvases. Or, the printmaking, the art-shows, the pranks and the whole narrative?