Large growth in COVID-19 or CORONA related trademark applications

Over the past few weeks, a number of persons in China have filed trademark applications relating to the Covid-19 pandemic, for words such as COVID-19 or CORONA. Trademark applications have also been filed containing words from the names of temporary hospitals set-up in Wuhan or containing the name of Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the first doctors to issue a warning about the pandemic. The Chinese Trademarks Office issued guidelines on 27-Feb-2020, within the ambit of the recently amended Article 10 of the Chinese Trademarks Law which prevents registration of signs which are 'detrimental to socialist ethics or customs, or [have] other unwholesome influences'. The guidelines aimed at strengthening the control of trademark applications related to the pandemic and to create a positive environment to fight the disease.

By way of these guidelines, by mid-March itself, the Chinese Trademarks Office had rejected around 300+ applications which contained terms relating to Covid-19. China's Trademarks Office has taken its stand and this will likely be the outcome of any such applications filed in the future as well.

In India as well, over the past few weeks, a number of new trademark applications have been filed which consist of terms such as CORONA and COVID specifically for medicinal goods. The Indian Trademarks Registry is in the process of examining such applications. Speaking from a legal perspective, the Trademarks Registry would , inter alia, examine such applications using the words CORONA or COVID for medicinal goods with the perspective of whether they have a distinctive character, whether they would be descriptive of the characteristics of such goods, and whether the public would be likely to be deceived or confused by such words. This is likely because a consumer may assume that any medicines branded with the terms CORONA/ COVID would be either a vaccine or a cure for the disease, whereas presently, no such medicine or vaccine has been formulated.

Not just in India and China, a number of other countries are also reporting filings of COVID-19 or CORONA related trademark applications, and it will be interesting to see how each and every country's Trademarks Office interprets and deals with such applications because the volume of such trademarks being filed is likely to increase in the coming months.