Offshore financial centres, domain-squatting and a Syrian manifesto
‘It feels like the start of a Dan Brown novel,’ says IP expert
FOLLOWING Digital News Asia’s report of an unknown Caribbean firm filing applications to trademark the terms ‘MH17’ and ‘MH370,’ another company has entered the fray.
MH17 and MH370 are the flight numbers of the two ill-fated Malaysia Airlines flights. MH17 was flying from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur on July 17 when it was shot down over Ukrainian airspace, killing all 298 people on board.
MH370 was a flight from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, carrying 239 people, that disappeared on March 8 just a few hours after taking off. The aircraft has not been found in what has been described as the aviation industry's greatest mystery.
According to a report by Australian Associated Press (AAP), a company called Remit Now International Ltd, registered in Malaysia, has also filed its own application to trademark ‘MH17’.
The application, made on July 18, was filed with IP Australia under Class: 41, which covers the trademark’s use in film, game shows, musicals, video games, music and texts.
In response to AAP queries, IP Australia said that the applications is currently being examined and pending a decision. Details of the filing can be viewed here.
However, further investigation by Digital News Asia (DNA), with the assistance of a trademark industry observer who requested anonymity, has revealed an interesting web of connections behind these filings.
Initial news reports on Remit Now had identified the company as a Malaysia-based firm, with a Cheras (Kuala Lumpur) area address listed in its application with IP Australia.
However, the company is also listed as having an address in Berlize City in the International Business Companies Registry of Belize.
Berlize City is also the city of origin for the first trademark application filed by Seyefull Investments Limited for ‘MH17’ for use in the European Union, as previously reported by DNA.
More connections were found between the two when domain names were included in DNA’s investigation, as enterprising individuals have been known to claim more than just trademarks after tragic events.
The MH370.com domain was registered by an individual based in Sydney, Australia by the name of Paul Edwards, on March 11 -- a few days after the disappearance of MH370.
Visiting the MH370 website automatically redirects users to another website belonging to Edwards. The homepage features a series of links along with a manifesto about the on-going conflict in Syria. In it, Edwards expresses his support for the Free Syrian Army.
Among the links listed on the website was one which reads: “If you are here because you are interested in flight MH370, click here.”
The link takes visitors to the website of Seyefull Investments Limited, the same company that filed for the MH370 and MH17 trademarks in Europe. Based on the information available on the site, the company appears to be an offshore financial centre.
An offshore financial centre is typically a small, low-tax jurisdiction specialising in providing corporate and commercial services to non-resident offshore companies, and for the investment of offshore funds.
A further search found that Seyefull has also filed an application with the US Patent and Trademark Office, on top of its earlier reported application for ownership of the trademark within the European Union. These application details can be viewed here.
The company’s Twitter account (@Seyefull), with seven followers, has tweets linking to a website belonging to Remit Now, where available information suggests that the company is also an offshore financial centre.
A Whois domain query revealed that the website is registered under a Utah-based entity called 'Domain Privacy Service FBO Registrant,' which provides domain masking services.
It is unknown at time of writing how Seyefull and Edwards are connected, nor where Remit Now truly fits within this picture.
However, an explanation for buying the mh370.com domain name was provided in a post on Edwards’ Anti-Subjugator blog post dated April 6, where he stated his intention to sell the domain for US$20 million:
I recently purchased the domain mh370.com in the hope of attracting more traffic to my website. mh370 is a hot topic, and my website has the solution to bad people doing bad things like hijacking planes (see the enlightenment document). I get around 250 hits per day from mh370.com which is probably more traffic than I can get with lots of online advertising. This is extremely valuable to me, which is why I don't want to give up the domain lightly. But everything has its price, and I reckon that for $20 million I would be able to do some sort of advertising to help match the 250 hits per day. Or failing that, I'd be able to advance my programming project significantly with that kind of money. But honestly, I don't think anything will be able to match being part of recorded history.
Some people might think it is in bad taste to use the domain mh370.com, but I disagree. Whatever foul play occurred on mh370 (or other hijackings), I have the solution available in "message 666". I actually wondered whether the correct moral thing to do to spread my message was to employ spammers, as the message is so valuable and I need to get it out. But I was unwilling to do that. But taking advantage of a hot domain is the exact right moral action.
However, his efforts have yet to bear fruit as eBay has a ceiling limit of US$500 for listing domains, while GoDaddy’s limit stands at US$50,000.
Defensive manoeuvres for MAS
In a report by the Daily Mail, a Malaysia Airlines spokesperson confirmed that the company is attempting to “block the application[s]” by registering the marks itself.
“Malaysia Airlines has started the process of filing the trademark over ‘MH17’. The purpose is to ensure no party takes advantage of the tragedy for their personal gains,” the spokesperson said.
Responding to queries made by Tim Lince for World Trademark Review, EIP trademark attorney Sharon Daboul said that rogue tradermarks, related to the name of a tragedy, is “a practice that seems to be on the increase.”
This increase, according to Daboul, signals the need for companies caught up in such tragedies to include registering related marks as a defensive manoeuvre, “simply in order to get there first and prevent third parties exploiting such incidents for their own benefit.”
In Malaysia, Malaysia Airlines filed eight trademark applications for ‘MH17’ on July 21 and another nine applications for ‘MH370’ on April 30, with the Intellectual Property Corporation of Malaysia or MyIPO.
Lince stated “it is unfortunate that trademark strategy should play any part in discussions about ‘disaster management',” but must be acknowledged in a reality where “some individuals see tragic events as a commercial opportunity.”
The industry observer DNA worked with for this article noted that registering these trademarks around the world isn't a cheap endeavour, raising questions about the true end-game for these moves.
“The cost to file such an application, again assuming only one trademark class, may be estimated at around US$2,000, including government fees, fees to a European trademark firm, and fees to one's US trademark counsel.
“It feels like the start of a Dan Brown novel, and I believe this is only the start of the mystery,” he added.
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