Time to turn the other cheek to trademarks

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The Independent Online
FEW OF US will admit to it, of course, but deep down we all yearn to have baths, toilets, cisterns and washbasins inscribed with the names of our modern-day icons so we can ablute at their altar and bathe in the presence of their cleansing spirit.

Well, okay, neither do I really, but someone out there must because a company called Aquarius Bathrooms wants to take out patents for sanitary equipment bearing the word "Diana", and in the process put the Princess of Hearts on the throne.

Bizarre as this application seems, it will become a trademark on 21 August provided there are no objections during the three-month "opposition period" set by the Patent Office.

You'd imagine there would be objections, though, particularly because Aquarius has really put its foot in it: among the lavatories, shower units and basins dignified by the late princess's name, the company is proud to announce the "Diana Memorial Bidet". And just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water.

Toe-curlingly naff, or a glorious tribute enshrined in enamel, it is all in a day's work for the marketing director of the Patent Office. Geoff Sargant describes himself as a "salesman who has no product". British businesses, he explains, are great at inventing, branding and marketing things, but then "they get upset when someone somewhere else in the world rips them off". It is his job to sell the idea of intellectual copyright so the money goes to the right people.

His message seems to have been heeded because over the past five or six years there has been a doubling in the annual rate of patent applications. Part of this is down to the boom in merchandising and part to a relaxation of the trademark laws which used to stipulate what product or service could or could not be registered; now any idea will do as long as the applicant provides graphic details.

And they don't come much more graphic than an idea from the Yucatan Liquor Store Company, which sought to register the "ambience of restaurants". Not just any old ambience, though, but fishnet stockings hanging from the ceiling, brown paper table cloths, frozen cocktails being dispensed and country & western music playing in the background; even Salvador Dali would have thought twice about imitating all that.

It gets more surreal because Mr Sargant also reports that people have tried to register smells - notably rose-scented car tyres and beer-scented darts - and colours: BP has trademarked one shade of green for garage forecourts, and Harrods another for retail outlets. Then there are sounds, the most outlandish of which was "clip clop, clip clop, moo" - the first noise to become a registered trademark in the US. Rather than registering their senses, you might think these people had taken leave of them.

But, anyway, you've had this great idea for a battery-powered cheese grater called "Mongoose" whose advertising is set to the music of the Bay City Rollers and features a man dressed as a lamp stand who's mixing a salad dressing while playing draughts with a bison ... I'm sorry, but it's an infringement of copyright waiting to happen.

LISTEN, if Dounreay says the "disappearance" of uranium from the nuclear processing plant during the 1960s did not actually happen but was merely a function of "accounting complexities", that's good enough for me. Bookkeeping errors are a fact of life, and anyway, we're only talking about deadly radioactive material.

So let's rest easy on that one and reassure ourselves that the so-called Bermuda Triangle was attributable to a flawed inventory and the disappearance of Lord Lucan merely a failure to count him back in again.

Ghost in the machine

LAST week Barclays careered into these pages to announce live trials of a "drive-thru" cashpoint near Heathrow Airport. The machine, the bank claimed, was the first of its kind in the UK.

Well not so fast, Barclays. Nigel Hetheringon, a reader who works in London, reports that credit for the innovation should go to the Royal Bank of Scotland, which used to operate a drive-through service near Trafalgar Square.

Further research proves him right. As long ago as 1961, RBS opened an outlet called "Drummonds" in a slip road off Whitehall at the Admiralty Arch end. Mr Hetherington recalls his uncle saying this was the "ultimate in civilisation" - a drive-through branch where a man stood at a window to accept deposits and hand out cash to passing motorists. Whether this human dispenser was also required to parrot "Do you want another service - please answer yes/no" or "This service is temporarily unavailable - withdrawals" has been lost in the mists of time.

The Drummonds drive-through endured until the late 1980s when, overtaken by technological developments, it was finally forced to close. Times change, of course, and there's no longer any place for men serving at windows; these days they all sit inside cashpoint machines.

IN THE hope I'm not the only naive person in Britain, I now recount a story which may be familiar to many motorists.

Recently, one of my tyres suffered a puncture and I took my car to a local garage to have it mended. The mechanic told me I'd have to buy a new tyre because the puncture was too close to the edge of the tread to reinflate it. Mainly out of acute embarrassment at my ignorance of car maintenance, and partly because driving away on three wheels did not seem feasible, I bowed to his diagnosis.

A couple of weeks later my car had its MOT at a different garage, and the mechanic told me that another tyre was losing its tread so he'd had to replace it. But he'd kept the cost down, he explained, by using a "reconditioned" second-hand tyre.

A terrible thought occurred to me: from where do garages obtain tyres that can be used again? Could I have been flogged back the same tyre that I'd been told was beyond repair?

Similar tales of ignominious defeat at the hands of the motor industry would be greatly welcomed, and names will be changed to protect the gullible. Together we can expose the scams of garageland, or at least purge ourselves of our shame.