Yesterday in its ‘essay’ section, the SMH published an article by Robert Laughlin criticising how easily patents are granted, thus locking up knowledge that in Laughlin’s view ought to be available for others to use. I have some sympathy for the view that intellectual property rights have gone too far, with the benefits (and there are some) not being sufficient to compensate for the costs. This is why I am inclined to think that parallel book importation laws should be relaxed.
So it was a little ironic that the lead news story in the same paper was an attack on Coles for supposedly misleading consumers by using a tick symbol on its products (which I notice Coles has trademarked, with a circle around it), which it is alleged is too similar to the Heart Foundation tick for healthy foods. While Coles is changing the tick, the paper claims that this is in reaction to “alleged misleading and unethical practices.”
But surely a tick is common sign for something being correct or good, which hasn’t been (and shouldn’t be) appropriated by any group or cause for its exclusive use?
The argument against Coles seems to be that in its contextual use on food it is too easily confused with the Heart Foundation tick. But in the context of a Coles supermarket it’s pretty clear that it is part of the store’s branding, and not a sign that the product is good for the heart. On a quick wander around my local Coles this morning, I noticed the Coles tick on laundry detergent, toilet paper, and an iron. Few customers are likely to think that consuming these products would be good for their hearts.
While the SMH did find an 84-year old who says he was confused by the tick, I don’t think this is enough to justify forcing Coles to change its logo or to give it a page one beating up.