Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Something for nothing?

In a paradigm case of a confused article about intellectual property, in which trade marks, patents and copyright are treated as synonymous, The Moscow Times reports that Yevroset, a Russian mobile phone retailer, has failed in its attempt to register the (word only?) trade mark Халява (khalyava).

The word doesn't appear in my Russian dictionary (which you might be pleased to know I have now put in a safe place so I don't lose it again), but then again it didn't have оснеживание either (and Babel Fish didn't help). There's an explanation on one of my favourite websites - one of my many thousands of favourites, I suppose - here. The etymology is explained here and very interesting it is (well, I think so).

Another thing that fascinates me is why it cannot be registered as a trade mark. The trade mark office (I assume that's who it was) states that the word conveys the meaning of 'the satisfaction of needs, getting something on someone else's expense, free of charge'. Some people seem to see this as a peculiarly Russian character trait: others observe that it's a universal phenomenon, and it does bring to my mind that wonderful neologism 'slackoisie', coined by Dan Hull and popularised by Scott Greenfield.

Leaving aside discussions of the human condition, you'd assume that Халява was an unsuitable trade mark for exactly the same reasons as "freebie" would be unregistrable in this country. ("The Little Book of Freebies" is registered in the UK, with no disclaimer of the key word, but that's as close as it gets.) It's an ordinary, descriptive word that everyone has to be free to use. But no, it seems from the report that the decision was made on public policy, or perhaps morality, grounds. It might be that a full report would reveal more, but I'm content with the idea that a trade mark office might see a public policy argument against allowing such refernces in a trade mark.

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