Tags: Climate Change | Global Warming | United Nations | trademark | ip | environmental | ecosystems

Thunberg's Move to Trademark Her Name Raises Questions

climate activist great thunberg

Greta Thunberg Attends Climate Protest In Hamburg, Germany on Feb. 21, 2020. Thunberg spoke at a Fridays for Future climate protest. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

By Wednesday, 26 February 2020 09:58 AM Current | Bio | Archive

Greta Thunberg is the fiery, teenage, Swedish  environmental activist renowned for her apocalyptic predictions about the collapse of the world’s ecosystems and the prospect of "mass extinction."

She has been a trendy figure among champions of progressive environmental policies for several years now, but her popularity ascended to new heights when she addressed the U.N.’s Climate Action Summit in 2019.

Her speech was undoubtedly powerful and riveting, making use of dramatic prose and capitalizing on her cherubic, physical appearance to cultivate an air of purity and sincerity.

Indeed, the international acclaim and admiration her speech received, despite her fantastical doomsday predictions, is testament to the triumph of her style-over-substance approach to oration. Consider the following salvo she delivered to a room of spellbound, international diplomats and representatives:

"You have stolen my dreams and my childhood with your empty words. And yet I'm one of the lucky ones. People are suffering. People are dying. Entire ecosystems are collapsing. We are in the beginning of a mass extinction, and all you can talk about is money and fairy tales of eternal economic growth.

"How dare you! You are failing us. But the young people are starting to understand your betrayal. The eyes of all future generations are upon you. And if you choose to fail us, I say: We will never forgive you."

Who could not be moved by the sheer innocence and child-like passion expressed by her language, narrated in charming European accented English?

Greta continued, "We will not let you get away with this. Right here, right now is where we draw the line. The world is waking up. And change is coming, whether you like it or not."

Greta’s meta-message is no secret; the adults have wrought end-of-days environmental destruction upon us and it is now up to Greta and her Generation Z comrades to fix the environmental crisis before the world collapses on itself. To this end, Greta launched the FridaysForFuture campaign in August 2018 when she dutifully protested her Government’s inertia on climate change in front of the Swedish parliament for three weeks during regular school hours.

Her story caught fire and the rest is history; a movement was born.

Now, whether or not Greta’s terrifying forecast for earth’s inevitable demise is realistic is not frankly the subject of this article and simultaneously, one would have to be a hardened cynic to doubt her sincerity; I do not doubt her sincerity. What I find interesting as an intellectual property attorney and (humbly) as a social critic is the relationship between the originator of a movement and his/her proprietary rights to its direction as the movement grows and splinters.

Keeping this thought in toe, consider a most recent development where Greta announced on Instagram that she has only last month, filed a European Union Trademark on her name, "Greta Thunberg" and on the name of her movement, "FridaysForFuture." 

As a brief recap, a Trademark is a name, logo, slogan, and/or sound that when used in conjunction with the sale of a good or service, alerts the consumer to the source of that good/service. Or, more simply, a trademark establishes the brand origin of the good or service. In Greta’s case, her European Union trademark application, EUIPO 018171377, covered 4 different classes of goods/services and listed a large and diverse set of items to be covered including "Research in the field of environmental protection; Environmental surveys; Education; Advertising; Insurance; Business management," and many others.

Similarly, Greta’s push to trademark her phrase, "Fridays For Future" was equally comprehensive and in her European Union Trademark application, EUIPO 018171380, she sought protection again over the same large and comprehensive list of goods/services.

Why did Greta trademark her name and the name of her movement, a legal strategy nearly always designed to protect one’s future economic interests in his/her brand?

Well, according to Greta’s Instagram post:

"My name and the #FridaysForFuture movement are constantly being used for commercial purposes without any consent whatsoever. It happens for instance in marketing, selling of products and people collecting money in my and the movement’s name. That is why I’ve applied to register my name, Fridays For Future, Skolstrejk för klimatet etc as trademarks.

"This action is to protect the movement and its activities. It is also needed to enable my pro bono legal help to take necessary action against people or corporations etc who are trying to use me and the movement in purposes not in line with what the movement stands for. I assure you, I and the other school strikers have absolutely no interests in trademarks.

"But unfortunately it needs to be done. Fridays For Future is a global movement founded by me. It belongs to anyone taking part in it, above all the young people. It can - and must - not be used for individual or commercial purposes."

My professional commitment as an intellectual property attorney specializing in trademark law undoubtedly compels a bias in favor of Greta and her frankly prudent decision to trademark her name. Greta has a right to protect her name and she certainly does have an interest in maintaining the reputational integrity of the movement she started.

And yet simultaneously, one cannot help but wonder whether the ostensible commercialization of a movement predicated on the global, humanitarian objective of halting the environmental destruction of the world is somehow subordinated by a corporatist move.

This is not to say that a quasi-famous person does not have the right to protect the intellectual property value of his/her name and certainly of their movement but is the cost of such protection the skepticism of the audience and a cynical appraisal of the fundamental purpose of obtaining such protection?

Even if, for example, we take Greta at her word (which I do), and assume that her decision to remove her name and the name of her movement from the commercial marketplace is not driven by economic motives, does the prosaic and decidedly practical step to protect her IP somehow subordinate the message of the movement itself? Does Greta’s saying through her trademark applications that this movement is not ours afterall but mine? I haven’t yet decided – how about you?

Abe Cohn is an attorney at Cohn Legal, PLLC, a law firm designed specifically to provide a boutique experience for entrepreneurs. Abe’s area of expertise is intellectual property and startup law. On judicial interpretation, Abe is a firm believer that constitutional originalism is the only viable and indeed sustainable judicial philosophy by which the courts may approach the interpretation of legal texts. Abe’s views on matters of the law are fundamentally rooted in his orientation towards a civil-libertarian approach to the role of government vis-a-vis individual freedoms. To read more of his reports — Click Here Now.

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Greta Thunberg has a right to protect her name and she certainly does have an interest in maintaining the reputational integrity of the movement she started.
trademark, ip, environmental, ecosystems
Wednesday, 26 February 2020 09:58 AM
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