F1 trademark

British agency cites Wikipedia in denying F1 trademark

A United Kingdom official has denied an attempt to register F1 as a trademark for Formula One racing in the UK, relying in part on Wikipedia to make the decision that F1 describes a form of motor racing rather than being seen as a trademark.

The decision (PDF) was made last month by David Landau of the UK Intellectual Property Office, acting on an application by Formula One Licensing BV, the commercial rights arm of the Formula One Group of companies. The application was opposed by a French company, Racing-Live, which operates a multilingual network of motor racing websites. Concurrently, the Formula One Group is opposing a Racing-Live trademark application for its F1-Live website. The Formula One Group has previously litigated before the World Intellectual Property Organization over similar issues involving f1.com, eventually buying that domain after its attempt to deny the previous owner's rights was rejected.

Evidence presented in the case included material from the Wikipedia articles on Formula One (which is a featured article), Formula One engines, the contents of Category:Racing formulas, and excerpts from articles about some of the other formulas. Also cited were other sources using F1 as an abbreviation for Formula One, referring to that as one of several auto racing types, and news reports about attempts to start a rival F1 series. The Formula One Group currently has an effective monopoly over these races, but Landau concluded this did not support considering F1 a trademark.

Commenting on the evidence, Landau noted the intrinsic "self-editing" of Wikipedia and its ability to produce "potentially libelous statements." However, he commented that "inherently, I cannot see that what is in Wikipedia is any less likely to be true than what is published in a book or on the websites of news organizations." As the parties did not express any concerns about this evidence, he concluded that it could be taken "at face value."

While Wikipedia has appeared in a number of court decisions over the past several years (see archived story), these have more often been passing references or use for background information. Citing Wikipedia as evidence to help decide a matter in controversy is much rarer. However, in a trademark case like this one, where the question is in part about the popular usage of a term, use of Wikipedia may be understandable.

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