Actualizado: 31 mar 2020
Most difficulties when obtaining a trademark registration originate from the existence of a prior similar sign. But there are many other grounds, and one we tend to disregard is that of contravention of "morality" or "public policy". This is precisely the obstacle encountered by an Italian franchising business named "Cannabis Store Amsterdam", in the trade of cannabis-related products and with stores all around Europe.
The General Court of the European Union decided last December that the logo reproduced above cannot be registered as trademark on the grounds of it being against morality and public order (articles 7(1) and 7(2) of EU trademark Regulation). This is so even given the selected goods and services, in classes 30 (chocolate, confectionery, etc.) and 32 (beers, soft drinks, etc) are not illegal in themselves. Indeed, Cannabis Store Amsterdam is not in the business of drug trafficking but of marketing legal products related to hemp.
The point of the Court is that the Cannabis leaf has become a media symbol for marijuana, even is the drug comes mainly from the flower of the plant not depicted in the logo. Additionally, the word "Amsterdam" is not neutral either, as, in the mind of the European consumer, the Dutch capital is known for its coffee shops where soft drugs are readily available.
The applicant argued that many cannabis products are already legal in some countries in the EU, so they can't hardly be inmoral. This argument won't do: there is still no harmonized vision in the continent about these products and a EU trademark should be good to be valid throughout. Lastly, the Court suggested that if they really had wanted to focus on the legal products of the plant they might as well used the term "hemp" instead of "cannabis".
The concepts of morality and public order are vague and difficult to grasp in trademark disputes, as there is no closed list of what can and cannot be done. Any mark that can be deemed discriminatory, offensive or that promotes crime have high chances of being rejected. A good example, also by the EU General Court, is that of Spanish restaurant "La Mafia Se Sienta A La Mesa" ("The Mafia takes a seat at the table") that also failed to get a registration. While the intention of the applicant was to capture the glamour of the Godfather movies, the court understood they were glorifying the Italian criminal organization.
The full decision "Cannabis" decision can be read here.