Swastikas and Red Stars

In Hungary, the government is considering a bill to ban trademarks that include symbols of totalitarian regimes, including swastikas and red stars.* This wouldn’t just prevent registration of the trademark like we saw in Mr. Tam’s case. This would make using totalitarian symbols as a trademark a criminal offense. People could actually go to jail.

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If passed, the new law would have the biggest impact on Heineken, but it could also affect other companies, like San Pellegrino.

Whatever your political bent, I think you should have a problem with this bill. Both Heineken and San Pellegrino were using a red star before it was co-opted as a symbol of Russian communism. Heineken started using the five-pointed red star in 1916 and San Pellegrino first used it in 1910. It didn’t become a symbol of communism until at least 1917.

Let’s see what you think by looking at two items I found in the U.S. Trademark Office database that contain a swastika.

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This trademark is registered:

 

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This trademark is a portion of a pending application.

 

 

Does it matter to you that in the first case, the swastika is being used as a Buddhist symbol and the second one appears to be used as a neo-nazi symbol? Would you buy products or services offered by either of these companies?

If you think that neither should be allowed, do you think people who use them should go to jail or just be prevented from getting the extra protection of registration?

It’s important to think about free speech, even when talking about trademarks.

 

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*This played out before, in 2013. The Hungarian Constitutional Court threw out an earlier law that criminalized totalitarian symbols. That law was revised to include a requirement that the person using the symbol have the intent to undermine social peace.

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