nbn™ logo (large)

Why trademarking the NBN will be a bad idea

(opinion) NBN Co Limited, the company responsible for building the National Broadband Network (NBN), began trading as simply nbn™ from this morning. This means that simply by changing the letter casing (upper-case to lower-case) you will be referring to different things: nbn™ (the company) and NBN (the network/physical infrastructure).

But notice that ™ sign next to the lower-case nbn™? It’s a trademark symbol, but not a registered trademark. They carry a characteristic circle-R symbol — ®. Presently, NBN is a registered trademark for the following classes:

Class: 16 Adhesives for stationery or household purposes; plastic materials for packaging (not included in other classes); printer’s type; printing blocks

Class: 25 Clothing; footwear; headgear

But since 2012, the company has been trying to register a trademark for the word “NBN” for a far broader application of the word… but it is still pending to-date.

Why having “nbn®” would be bad

I must declare, first, that I run a website with the word “NBN” in it. But I think it rather emphasises the point. myNBN.info is a website that tracks the rollout of the National Broadband Network. For such a website, what would you call it if you can’t use the word “NBN”? The best I can think of is thisbroadbandnetworkthattheaustgovisbuilding.info.

Before the company changed its name to nbn™, referring to the NBN was an acronym for the the network or the physical infrastructure — the National Broadband Network. Trade-marking the name NBN Co made sense, as it referred exclusively to the company. However, the NBN (National Broadband Network) is a term coined by the Australian Government at the time the company was conceived to refer to the infrastructure it was building.

To give an analogy, it would be like Centrelink registering a trademark for “welfare payment™”.

But when the company renames itself to become the generic network that it builds, then you have a problem. It is ambiguous whether “nbn” refers to the company or the network. A trademark of a “word”, which is what nbn™ is applying for, are applicable for “words” not the “styling of words” (that, is a logo). That means if successful, the term NBN or nbn would both be trademarks of NBN Co Ltd (trading as nbn).

It would become practically impossible for anyone to create anything that’s about the NBN (the Network) without infringing this trademark. If, for example, a real estate company filters properties by whether they have the “NBN” available, the wouldn’t not be able to do so without infringing a theoretically approved trademark (at least for Classes 9, 35, 41 and 42) — even though they are referring to access to a piece of public-owned, nation-wide infrastructure.

Another example, Whirlpool Forums which as a forum about the “NBN” may be infringing the theoretically approved trademark…

Yes, I think it would be absurd if such a trademark is granted. By all means, trademark your logo; trademark your slogan; trademark your registered company name! But the ambiguity between “nbn” (the company) and “NBN” (the network) may mean that the trading name might go through as a trademark — at the detriment of Australian citizens.

Kenneth Tsang

I'm the author of jxeeno™ blog and co-founder of HSCninja.com. I'm a bit of an #NBN and public transport geek. You can normally find me juggling work and my studies at UNSW where I'm currently completing a degree in Geospatial Engineering.