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Spaniards to win trademark rights to 'Obama'

A group of enterprising Spaniards is set to win the European trademark rights to a word with instant global recognition - OBAMA.

EU trademark rules once stopped opportunists turning the names of heads of state and other prominent figures and celebrities into branding gold.

But now, unless the use of an instantly identifiable name is deemed to be an act of deception, little else prevents the first comer grabbing the rights.

The four Spaniards - said to be an economist, a public relations professional, a textiles magnate and a lawyer, all based in Madrid - lost no time in lodging their application with the EU's trademark office in Alicante.

In fact they submitted the request on January 21 - a day after the new President of the United States was inaugurated.

The applications say they want to register the name as a trademark for various business activities, including for clothes and shoes, financial services and catering.

This afternoon the trademark office, which was set up more than a decade ago to enable firms and individuals to register one trademark for use in all 27 EU countries, confirmed the application had been received and that rule changes no longer blocked the rights to some of the best-known names in the world.

A statement said the Office for Harmonisation in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) (OHIM), said the application procedures were still going on, but one official made clear there was almost certainly no obstacle to approval.

The statement said: "The examination formalities have not been completed as we have not yet received the payment of the application fee, so 'OBAMA' has not been registered by the Office."

The statement explained: "In general terms, if a trademark is distinctive and not descriptive for the goods and services applied for, is not deceptive with regards to the origin of the goods and services or contrary to public policy, it will be accepted.

"To be rejected on public policy grounds, the trademark would have, for example, to be racist, pornographic or related to terrorism."

It continued: "While we do not comment on the merits of individual applications, the Office Guidelines on the examination of trademarks specify that 'names of individual persons are usually distinctive' and 'the same is true for names of prominent persons, including heads of state'."

Previous guidelines virtually excluded the registration of the names of the famous and noteworthy - leading to rejections of bids to trademark "Bill Clinton" and "Che Guevara" in the past.

But the latest rules emphasise that the names of prominent people "will no longer be considered as deceptive or contrary to public policy".

Once the registration of OBAMA is nominally approved and the registration fee paid, there will be a routine three-month period for any objections to be raised before the registration process is complete.

Officials privately say they can see no reason what objections could be raised now under the EU trademark rules to prevent the word OBAMA being accepted at the end of the three-month period.

One EU official explained current thinking: "The issue of deception is not really relevant, because a product carrying the word OBAMA is hardly going to convince anyone that the goods are linked to the President of the United States."

Meanwhile, the Spanish news agency EFE gave a clue as to what prompted the entrepreneurs to think of trademarking the name: one of the four, Juan Perez told a reporter that the idea occurred to them after they heard that a group of Americans staying in Barcelona were celebrating the President's inauguration in the newly-named "Obama bar" in their hotel.

Mr Perez said they immediately decided that "it's a good name for any type of business".

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