Trying to cash in on corona

29 March 2020 - 00:07 By NICK WILSON

Snake-oil salesmen throughout history have tried to take advantage of consumers' anxieties over a new disease by selling fake cures. Dubious products likely emerged during the Black Death - the bubonic plague that raged across Europe and Asia in the 1300s.And now, with the global coronavirus pandemic, there will likely be scores of products emerging that are meant to either protect or "cure" you. Already in SA there are those who are trying to cash in on the panic. According to Bernadette Versfeld, a partner at law firm Webber Wentzel, the trademarks Covidban, Corona Guard and Corona Care were applied for at the South African Trade Marks Office between March 3 and March 16 in the pharmaceutical-goods category. One of these products is described as an antiviral sanitiser."Not a complete surprise. There are always opportunists rushing to register a trademark and this time they are seeking to benefit from the biggest news story of our time," said Versfeld. The Trade Marks Office, which is closed during the 21-day lockdown, should refuse the applicants these names, she said.If the Trade Marks Office allows the applications, the owner of the long-established beer label Corona should consider opposing them, given that its trademark is well known, said Versveld."Companies like Absolut Vodka are making hand sanitisers, so there is also a strong argument to be made that the use of Corona for hand sanitiser will create confusion in the market. Of course the owner of the Corona brand could also consider proceeding against anyone using Corona as a trademark for hand sanitisers on the basis of unlawful competition." Versfeld said the best kind of trademark is an "invented word that means absolutely nothing", like the brands Kodak and Exxon, for example. "You want to distinguish yourself from your competitors. That's what makes a successful brand. Covid will have such a negative connotation when this is all over. Why would you want to use it as part of your brand name?"Jeremy Sampson, MD of Brand Finance Africa, a global brand management group, said there will always be people who "try to cash in and take advantage" but that he believes the words coronavirus or Covid-19 will become increasingly generic terms, like cold or flu, that you will not be able to trademark.He said that even in other sectors there are certain names that one can never trademark because they are too generic, or fall into a "protected area". For example, Prince Harry and Meghan Markle withdrew their attempt to trademark "Sussex Royal" because the brand is owned by the British royal family.

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