PARIS – Can a company own the word planet?
Powerful French entertainment company Canal Plus trademarked the term in France, but environmental groups are pushing back, saying they should be allowed to use the word “planet” to promote their projects to save it. Multiple cases are under examination by France’s intellectual property regulator INPI, including one coming to a head this week.
Canal Plus argues that the groups' use of the terms “planete” in French, or “planet” in English, for marketing purposes violates its trademarks, registered to protect its Planete TV channels that showcase nature documentaries.
The head of environmental group Planete Amazone, Gert-Peter Bruch, thought it was a hoax when he first received a mail from Canal Plus claiming ownership of the planet brand.
The group plans to release a documentary in February about the destruction of the Amazon forest and activists’ fight to try to prevent it. Bruch tried to register a trademark for the name of his group before the release of the movie, which is called “Terra Libre” and was made largely by volunteers.
“I honestly thought it was a fake at the beginning. I received an email from Canal Plus and I didn’t dare open the attachment because I thought it was a virus. So I called them to ask them whether their legal affairs department tried to contact me, they said yes,” Bruch told The Associated Press.
“I read the letter with astonishment," he said. “They were saying, ‘You don’t have the right to protect this brand (Planete Amazone), we are opposing it.'"
Laure Ansart's group faced the same problem: a letter from the Canal Plus group denying her the right to use the word planet for her NGO, called Run for Planet - 15 Million Trees for Siberia.
The group is organizing a run from Montreuil-sur-Mer in France to Vladivostok on Russia's Pacific Coast in 2022 to raise awareness about Siberia's forests, and wants to plant 15 million trees in the region. "Siberia is the green lung of the northern hemisphere, with the Taiga and its cold forests that are essential to our oxygen, to the atmosphere of the whole planet,” she told The AP.
Bruch's group is trying to reach an agreement with Canal Plus, and has until Wednesday to submit material to the intellectual property authority to avoid legal action. Ansart's group is awaiting a decision from the authority early next year on whether it can register its trademark using the word planet. Other groups are going through similar procedures to try to persuade Canal Plus to drop its opposition to their use of the word.
The Canal Plus group includes a cable network with multiple channels and a movie and television studio that produced or co-produced films including Basic Instinct, The Pianist, Green Zone and the Bridget Jones series.
The French National Intellectual Property Institute, INPI, said it couldn't comment on the procedures because they are confidential until a decision is reached.
Canal Plus declined requests for comment. In letters sent to the NGOs seen by AP, the company listed several past rulings by INPI defending the company's planet trademarks, involving groups with varied missions including Miss Planete, Planete Macho or Planet Money Services.
In its letters, Canal Plus argues that its planet brands “enjoy strong recognition on the French and European markets, and therefore represent a strong distinctive character to designate a television network and the products and services connected to it.”
In the Planete Amazone case, the company argues the NGO is offering similar services to the Canal Plus Planete channel, and the public could mistakenly believe that the NGO is connected to Canal Plus. Bruch disputes this, and argues the network and his environmental group should be allowed to co-exist, both using the same word.
Angela Charlton in Paris contributed.