It’s official – trade marks with swearing are now ok

I have to admit to not being a fan of marketing shock tactics. And I suppose the French Connection FCUK brand must be amongst the most well known example.

According to a BBC report from 2001, the FCUK logo was created by legendary adman Trevor Beattie, and is widely credited with turning the fashion retailer’s fortunes around. The British Advertising Standards Authority received 27 complaints about the logo on its launch. And a British judge branded the campaign “tasteless and obnoxious” during a court case involving the company.

Just this week I spotted a story in Springwise for a new brand of gadget friendly jeans that go by the name wtfjeans. My feeling is this is somewhat less offensive, as only ‘hip young things’ would know what the three letters stand for in this context. Having said that, a quick Google search reveals over 35 million hits for the term.

However, one of my Intellectual Property expert colleagues Philip Eagle has discovered that in January the Office for Harmonization in the Internal Market (Trade Marks and Designs) approved a German trade mark,  F***ing Hell.

Apparently swearing is ok as long as the offensive word is used in the abstract and not used to insult an identifiable person or group of people.

R 0538/2008-4 – F***ing Hell [Fig. mark] – The applicant sought to register a figurative trade mark for ‘clothing, footwear, headgear’ in Class 25, ‘beers and aerated waters and other non-alcoholic drinks’ in Class 32 and ‘alcoholic beverages (except beers)’ in Class 33.


Philip has just informed me that the UKIPO may have a different view on the matter as in June 2005 they refused an application for FOOK.

The Hearing Officer found that the trade mark was excluded from acceptance by reason of section 3(3)(a) of the Trade  Marks Act 1994 on the basis that it consisted exclusively of the word FOOK which is phonetically very similar or, in some regional dialects, identical to the offensive word F***. As such it was contrary to accepted principles of morality.

On a related topic I note that my old University, Keele has recently published a study showing that swearing can lessen pain.

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