Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The 'Obama effect' on trademarks

US President Barack Obama was already stimulating the economy during his election campaign. The obama mania started just after the day he formally announced his candidacy for president. Obama mania on merchandising products like posters, buttons, t-shirts, mugs, plates etc., but also on some more extreme products, see for example some 18 nutty pieces of Obama merchandise.

The obama mania also has its effect on the intellectual property market. In the past months during the elections, several US companies filed applications for new trademarks at the United States Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO). A current search on the Trademark Electronic Search System gives a list of 73 pending filings for trademarks incorporating the president’s name. These filings include stuffed toys 'Bearak Obama', and 'ObamaLlama', a candy bar 'Obama', 'Obama vodka', 'Obamanator' for beer, 'Obamanation' for clothing, 'Obamaniac' for shoes, 'Broccoli Obama' for fresh and frozen vegetables, 'Obamajamas' for sleepwear, 'Ob-La-Di Ob-La-Da O-ba-ma' for assorted t-shirts and novelties, and even an application for 'Obamaland', not an amusement park but to market educational publications and guides and last but not least Obama’s motto 'Yes we can' in Ben & Jerry's ice 'Yes Pecan'.

In Europe, a search on the trademark database of the Office for Harmonisation in the internal market (OHIM) resulted in seven pending applications, for instance 'Nobamanus' for hand-care creams and 'Nobamask' for materials for dressings.

At the Benelux Office for Intellectual Property (BOIP), two applications have been filed, ‘Obama’ for magazines and musicals and ‘Obama’ for seeds and flowers, maybe a tulip’s name for the Obama family?

Approval by the US Trademark office
According to the USPTO guidelines, marks would not be registrable if they are:
  • confusingly similar
  • merely descriptive or misdescriptive
  • immoral, deceptive, or scandalous
  • disparages or falsely suggest a relationship with a person (living or dead) an institution, a belief, or a national symbol, including any mark which brings them into contempt or disrepute
  • geographically misdescriptive marks on liquors
  • constitute a government's flag or coat of arms, marks that consist of a name, portrait or signature identifying a particular living person without their consent, or marks that consist of a name, portrait, or signature of a U.S. President during the life of the President's widow, without her/his consent.
In an earlier refusal by the USPTO for the mark 'Obama vs Osama' the office noted:
Registration of the present application is also refused under Section 2(c) of the Trademark Act, for the record does not include the written consent of Barack Obama and Osama Bin Laden, the names of the living individuals identified in the proposed mark. Section 2(c) of the Trademark Act, 15 U.S.C. Section 1052(c), bars the registration of a mark that consists of or comprises (whether consisting solely of, or having incorporated in the mark) a name, portrait or signature which identifies a particular living individual, except by the written consent of such individual. A name need not be the person’s full name in order to identify a particular individual.
A few of the Obama trademarks have already been refused by the USPTO. So the question is which of the Obama pending applications will actually stay ‘alive’.
For more publications regarding US trademarks, see the Peace Palace catalogue on the keyword combination USA and Trademarks. See the Barack Obama and Joe Biden's plan to learn more about the US policy on intellectual property.

Friday, January 23, 2009

WTO launches new database on regional trade agreements

Fundamental to the GATT/WTO system is the Most-Favored Nation (MFN) principle (GATT Art. I ; GATS Art. II and TRIPS Art. 4). The principle obliges WTO members to treat all trading partners equally.

GATT Art. XXIV (to be read in conjunction with the 1994 Understanding on the Interpretation of Article XXIV of GATT) and GATS Art. V provide an exception to the MFN principle for regional trade agreements (RTAs), comprising customs unions and free-trade areas, so long as certain strict criteria are fulfilled. The criteria essentially come down to the principle that RTAs should not impose more trade diversion than is absolutely necessary. [Click here for a brief explanation of the WTO’s rules on regional trade agreements]

Since the early 1990s the number of RTAs have greatly increased and are a very prominent feature of the Multilateral Trading System (MTS). Some 421 RTAs have been notified to the GATT/WTO up to December 2008. Of these, 324 RTAs were notified under Article XXIV of the GATT 1947 or GATT 1994; 29 under the Enabling Clause; and 68 under Article V of the GATS.

In February 1996 a Committee on Regional Trade Agreements (CRTA) was created by the WTO General Council with the purpose of examining RTAs and to assess their consistency with WTO rules. The CRTA also examines how RTAs might affect the MTS, and what the relationship between regional and multilateral agreements might be.

In regard to the examination and assessment of RTAs, on 14 December 2006 the General Council established a provisional basis for a new transparency mechanism for RTAs (WT/L/671, 18 December 2006 (06-6056)). This new mechanism provides for early announcement of a RTA and notification to the WTO. RTAs falling under GATT Article XXIV) and GATS Article V will be considered by the Committee on Regional Trade Agreements, while RTAs falling under the Enabling Clause (trade arrangements between developing countries) will be considered by the Committee on Trade and Development.

One of the requirements of the General Council's Transparency Decision on RTAs is the establishment of an electronic database by the WTO Secretariat. The database should contain all the notifications, links to the content of the relevant RTAs, legal provisions and information on the WTO’s assessments of the RTAs and should be structured to be easily accessible to the public.

On 14 january 2009 the database was launched and can be accessed in English, French and Spanish. The database can be searched by country, region, legal provision, date of notification or entry into force of the RTA. Summary tables of all RTAs currently in force, containing various types of information, can be easily exported by users of the database. [Access database]

Select bibliography:

Jagdish Bhagwati: Termites in the trading system : how preferential agreements undermine free trade. New York, NY [etc.] : Oxford University Press, 2008

Sungjoon Cho: Breaking the barrier between regionalism and multilateralism : a new perspective on trade regionalism. In: Harvard International law journal, 42(2001), pp 419-465

Robert E. Herzstein and Joseph P. Whitlock: Regulating Regional Trade Agreements : A Legal Analys. In: The World Trade Organization : Legal, Economic and Political Analysis / ed. Patrick F.J. Macrory, Arthur E. Appleton, Michael G. Plummer, New York, NY : Springer [etc.], 2005.,pp 203-246.

Jeffrey J. Schott: Free Trade Agreements : Boon or Bane of the World Trading System? Washington, D.C. : Institute for International Economics, 2004.

Jacob Viner: The Customs Union Issue. New York : Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Security, 1950.

L. Alan Winters: Regionalism versus multilateralism. Washington, D.C. : The World Bank, 1996.

Friday, January 16, 2009


Yesterday Professor Yves Daudet, Secretary-General of the Hague Academy of International Law launched the first volume in English in the series of Pocketbooks of the Hague Academy : “The evolution of sustainable development in international law: Inception, meaning and status”, by Nico Schrijver, Professor of the University of Leiden.
In the new lounge of the Academy and in the presence of distinguished members of the Curatorium of the Hague Academy and leading authorities in the field of international law, the first copy was presented to Mr Koenders, the Dutch minister of International Development Policy and Cooperation.
Mr. Koenders praised Nico Schrijver for his extensive research and publications on international law of development.
This booklet, containing the Academy lecture of 2007 Recueil des cours 2007, Tome 329 p. 217-412, will certainly contribute to a better understanding of the concept, history and evolution of sustainable development within the concept of international law.

The Academy will publish each year a low priced handsome paperback containing one course from a private international law session, and another from a public international law session, one in English and the other in French. The aim of this new collection is to promote the dissemination of International Law research.
The first French publication was “ Philosophie de l’arbitrage international”, by Professor Emmanuel Gaillard (2007 Recueil des cours 2007, Tome 329 p. 49-216).

Thursday, January 15, 2009

UNHCR concerned about displaced Congolese and continuing LRA attacks

On 13 January 2009 the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR published a news story about the humanitarian situation in the eastern part of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). The UNHCR estimated that 537 people had been killed in LRA attacks since September in Oriental Province, which borders Uganda and South Sudan.

On the same day, Joe Bavier of Reuters reported UN-"officials said the security and humanitarian situation in Democratic Republic of Congo's Oriental Province had sharply deteriorated since the military operation started on December 14. Uganda, Congo and South Sudan launched the joint offensive against the Ugandan rebel Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in Congo's Garamba National Park."
"We are increasingly concerned about the humanitarian situation and continuing attacks by ... the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA)," said UNHCR spokesman Ron Redmond. "Rough estimates of the number of forcibly displaced in this part of the Democratic Republic of Congo have now surpassed 104,000 in this conflict with the LRA," Redmond said.

On 12 January 2009 ABC news reported that according to a local official "Ugandan Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) rebels have killed 22 people during weekend raids in north-east Democratic Republic of Congo."

In a press release of 31 December 2008 the UN peace keeping mission in the Congo, MONUC, has condemned the attacks of the LRA on the civilian population in Faradja during Christmas 2008. The press release of 30 December 2008 quotes that "UN Secretary-General Mr. Ban Ki-moon condemned in the strongest possible terms the appalling atrocities reportedly committed by the Lord's Resistance Army (LRA) in recent days in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and southern Sudan. He demanded that the LRA respect all rules of international humanitarian law."

The LRA has been fighting a 20-year war against the Ugandan government, but has also become a threat in the DRC, Sudan, and the Central African Republic. The rebel group is notorious for killing and mutilating civilians and kidnapping children for use as soldiers and sex slaves.

Joseph Kony and his commanders, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen, are wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity. More information about the indictments is available in the Statement by the Chief Prosecutor of the ICC, mr L. Moreno-Ocampo on the Uganda Arrest Warrants (14 October 2005) [PDF]

Fortunately the coalition forces are making some progress: the article of Henry Musaka of 13 January shows that the Ugandan amry (UPDF) has captured more Kony rebels. "This brings to eight the number of LRA fighters captured and 38 killed since the offensive was launched on December 14, 2008. Over 21 rebels have surrendered to the allies in various parts of Congo and South Sudan and nine captives rescued."

Mr Denis H. Obua (Youth MP, Northern Uganda) rightfully argues in his article in Monitor Online that "it is important to note and know that the problem of Kony is no longer a Ugandan issue but a regional as well as an international agenda. This emanates from the deplorable and unacceptable human devastation LRA is causing in Southern Sudan, DR Congo and the Central African Republic."

Hopefully warlord Kony c.s. will be brought to justice very soon and the coalition and MONUC will be able to gain control over the situation in the region; after all the DRC has the potential (natural resources) to develop into a booming economy.

Suggestions: interesting blog post on Congowatch

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Reading Room Map

It is freezing cold in the Hague. People are skating on the pond in the rose garden under the eyes of the statue of Erasmus.

Before you go out you want to know which books are available on the 360 shelves in the reading room, apart from the books and journals you can request from the online catalogue.

We developed an easy online tool for this, the Reading Room Map. You find it under reading room in the upper bar. You see 7 double rows of books and at the bottom a list of subjects. You can click on a row and then on a shelf to see the list of books waiting there for you to be used.

In the first row you find a selection of 180 of the most important international law journals. If you click on one of the yellow cases you see the whole list of those journal titles. Go on, and you are even taken to the full text, inhouse only of course.

Then a selection of our new books. If you click there, you come in LibraryThing, where we ideally give a short description of the content of the books and add a few tags. Go on to the catalogue and reserve the book if you want.

You continue your tour through the library. You find the whole Recueil des Cours collection of the Hague Academy of International Law, at this moment 332 volumes. We have them also fulltext online, go to our e-resources, inhouse only. Then you find the manuals of public international law, in all languages, you pass treaties, States, territory, diplomacy etc.

The structure of the public international law part comes from our systematic catalogue , which in turn is based on Oppenheim’s International Law, in combination with the classification of the Max Planck Public International Law Bibliography.

After war, the last public international law subject, you find private international law, comparative law, municipal law with the main works on the law of the different countries and in the end reference works, from history, geography, grammar and style, legal research to 28 metres of dictionaries.

You can also start with the subject list at the bottom, it tells you where on the shelves you can find a particular subject.

You jump on your bike, you can not wait to go through the books with your hands, study in the warm reading room and have a warm chocolate downstairs in our canteen.