Where hope was once the prevalent state of mind when a new year rolled around, this year that notion was swiftly replaced in the hearts and minds of everyone around the world by worry and fear, as the world was introduced to the Coronavirus, now officially known as COVID-19. With no end in sight to this virus as yet, businesses and global economies have been severely impacted. Businesses struggling to keep afloat include those in the entertainment, travel, hospitality, sports, tech, construction and video game industries, and yes, even the world of Intellectual Property (IP) has been very much affected.
It may not come as a surprise that something which affects the human condition will inevitably affect everything else, but the turning point was how quickly the virus became widespread, extending its reach to over a hundred countries. With flights cancelled and events to be postponed or ultimately cancelled, we at KASS hope that things will be contained and return to normalcy soon.
Moving on to what’s been happening in the realm of IP, one of the main topics of conversation has been surrounding trademarks that were filed recently in relation to the virus, or in the name of the virus itself. Trademarks such as “CORONAVIRUS SURVIVAL GUIDE” which was filed in the US under Class 16 for magazines in the field of survival, protection, medicine and pandemics, “COVID-19 VAX” under Class 5 for vaccines, and curiously enough, a band named “CORONAVIRUS” with its stylised fonts to fit its heavy metal persona was also filed. Fans of “Anthrax” the metal band from America may have an affinity with the latter trademark, due to anthrax being a deadly disease itself. Other countries such as South Korea and China were facing the same issue where trademark applications such as “Corona Killer”, CORONACOP”, “No Corona” and many others have been filed in the former, with China reportedly taking action on individuals who had maliciously filed trademarks relating to the virus.
Despite the saying that “there’s no such thing as bad publicity”, recognition may not always be good in the eyes of the public. For example, “Corona Extra”, the world-famous alcoholic beverage produced by a large brewery in Mexico took an unfortunate hit due to the similarity of its name to the virus, with the masses having a field day connecting the two generally unrelated subjects together. In this case, sales of Corona beer did not fall rapidly due to the name association, but more so due to the fact that sales in China had been hit drastically by falling demand due to a drop in social gatherings and enforced quarantines.
A similar incident previously occurred when Tata Motors Ltd., an automotive manufacturing company from India, launched a new car, “Tata Tiago”, in 2016. The car was previously called “Tata Zica”, with “Zica” abbreviated from “zippy car”. The company had changed the name of the car to “Tata Tiago” to avoid the connotations linking it to the Zika virus outbreak. Such precautions should be taken into consideration as your brand name is the first impression made to the public when a product or service is being marketed.
On the patent front, developments were reported in the search for a potential drug that might help to treat COVID-19. The Wuhan Institute of Virology, a university located in Wuhan, China where the outbreak was first reported had recently filed a patent application for the use of the drug “remdesivir” (originally developed by Gilead Sciences Inc., an American biotechnology company), for the treatment of COVID-19.
The drug was initially developed by Gilead Sciences to treat the Ebola viral outbreak a few years back and was claimed to potentially treat certain infections in the coronavirus family as well. With the outbreak originating in Wuhan, it makes sense that the drug is to be tested in China for further developments. Gilead had previously filed a Chinese patent on the said drug in 2016, which is still pending. As such the recent patent application filed by the virology institute may be in conflict.
Currently there are 15 companies working on the treatment or vaccines for COVID-19, all fighting against time to rush to the frontline to save lives, and to secure the patents as well. We hope that when the treatment and vaccines are discovered, the patent owners will price the drugs in a way in which all countries, including developing nations and third world countries, can afford them.
With further news on COVID-19 on the rise, we can expect to see many more of such occurrences in the IP world and other areas. Until then, remember to wash your hands and keep them sanitized, prevention is always better than cure.
Hoh Jerick is a Trademarks & Designs Executive at KASS International, an established intellectual property firm with offices in Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam. He handles the registration and prosecution of trademarks and industrial designs, and provides advice on copyright matters. For more information, visit www.kass.asia or drop an e-mail to email@example.com.