MH17 the musical? a gameshow, play or movie based around the horrific plane crash? As appalling as that sounds, this could actually happen as it looks the Malaysia Airlines tragedy is about to become the centre of a local trademark stoush.
Less than one day after the doomed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 crashed into fields in eastern Ukraine killing all 298 passengers aboard, a mysterious company in Kuala Lumpur applied to the Australian Trade Marks Office to have the term "MH17" trademarked.
On July 18, only 24 hours after the news broke that a missile had downed a passenger airline over civil-war ravaged eastern Ukraine and with the bodies of men, women and children still strewn across farmland, towns and sunflower fields, a company called Remit Now International lodged its trademark application with Australian authorities.
According to documents obtained by Fairfax Media, Remit Now International has applied for a trademark for "MH17" for Class 41 services, which covers a huge swathe of usages including films, online games, game shows, video games, plays, musicals, magazines and educational texts.
The people behind Remit Now International remain a mystery, with the company based in a medium-cost condominium in Kuala Lumpur - although Australian Trade Mark documents show the business has a post office box at the Australia Fair shopping centre on Queensland’s Gold Coast.
But it could have a fight on its hands with Malaysia Airlines applying for its own MH17 trademark four days after the crash, on July 21, presumably to protect the term from being misused by third parties.
Malaysia Airlines has also sought an Australian trademark for "MH370", linked to its plane that disappeared on March 8 with 239 people aboard. However, much like the grab for MH17, the airline was beaten by another company, this time Aoan International, which applied for a trademark for "MH370" only four days after the plane disappeared.
Kliger Partners principal lawyer Daniel Kovacs said Remit Now International could be awarded the trademark, given its application was lodged before that of Malaysia Airlines.
"In Australia, the trademark registration system operates to some extent on a “first come first served” basis", Mr Kovacs said.
"This means that presumptively the first to file a trademark application has priority over a subsequently filed application and the Trade Marks Office is likely to raise Remit Now’s earlier application as a basis for blocking registration of Malaysia Airlines’ application at least to the extent that it covers similar services, such as films, computer games and online publishing services.
"This is not to say that Remit’s own application may not encounter objections itself."
Mr Kovacs said there were a number of ways that Malaysia Airlines might be able to overcome such an objection, but they may depend on the extent to which it can demonstrate that it has used “MH17” as a trademark, for the particular goods and services in question, and in Australia, each of which may pose significant hurdles.
"It is also possible that other grounds could be successfully argued as a basis for having Remit Now’s application opposed, such as the use of the brand by Remit Now being likely to cause deception and confusion, its trademark application having being made in bad faith, the trademark being scandalous or insufficiently distinctive."
However, he said a trademark merely being in "poor taste" was not usually enough to have the trademark refused.
There has been a trademark land grab in other jurisdictions too. A company called Seyfull Investments based in the tiny central American nation of Belize has also filed a trademark for MH17 with European authorities. It is seeking trademark usage across a wide range of goods and services such as conferences, exhibitions and competitions, education and instruction, and entertainment services covering the provision of programmes, movies, and shows delivered by television, radio, satellite and the web.
People or businesses that quickly lodge trademarks around tragic events, such as plane crashes, terrorist attacks or the death of a celebrity, are known as "trademark trolls". Their motive is typically to warehouse the trademark and then threaten to sue others or demand huge payments from those who use the trademark.
Within hours of the second tower collapsing after the September 11 terrorist attacks in New York, a businessman attempted to trademark the term "September 11, 2001". It was ultimately rejected by US authorities.
"In Malaysia Airline’s case it may be that it wishes to shield the mark from registration and use by others for reasons that will be regarded as being in poor taste or that will reflect badly on the airline or its brand," Mr Kovacs said.
"The extent to which having a trademark registered will permit it to control the use of the term 'MH17' may be somewhat limited and such a registration would not prevent others using the term in a non-branding sense."