At the end of last year sharp-eyed transport commentators and journalists noticed that Transport for London suddenly stopped referring to Boris’s new bus as the ‘New Bus for London’ and started press releasing it as the ‘New Routemaster’.
Purists have always hated any comparison between the ‘real’ Routemaster and the newcomer so were displeased that TfL had apparently started copying the media’s conflation of the two vehicles.
But it wasn’t just lazy populism at play – it seems TfL was trying to assert ownership of the name in order to support a trade mark application.
The original New Bus for London name could never have been registered as a trade mark because it’s too descriptive to get past the Intellectual Property Office’s examiners.
With TfL already owning the Routemaster trade mark for the original bus it must have seemed like a doddle to get the new name protected and therefore licensable to toy and games makers – very important in these days of raising more money from commercial activities.
But it transpires the IPO has warned TfL that the new name is too similar to trademarks already held by Korean tyre manufacturer Hankook and the popular book character, Rodney the Routemaster.
In January its examiner advised TfL that the hoped-for new name was so similar to existing marks that “the public are likely to confuse your trade mark with the earlier trade marks.”
This means the IPO has been obliged to advise the holders of those marks about TfL’s application in case they wish to object.
If they do TfL could be forced to narrow the scope of its application so that the mark doesn’t cover the same goods or services as the pre-existing ones or drop it altogether.
I’ve asked Rodney’s representatives if he’s heard from TfL and whether he’s planning to object to their name-grab.