Banksy’s effort to deter merchandisers from cashing in on his graffiti paintings was dealt a blow Monday when the European Union’s intellectual property office declared the pseudonymous artist’s application to use his famous “Flower Thrower” as a trademark was invalid.
In 2014, Pest Control, Banksy’s authentication bureau, applied to the office to register the Bethlehem mural of a rioter hurling a floral bouquet as an official “trademark without text.” Artists traditionally use copyright law to protect their works from knockoffs, but copyright action would have required the British graffiti artist to reveal his long-concealed identity. (One of Banksy’s stenciled murals declares “copyright is for losers.”)
Last year, Full Colour Black, a British-based greeting card company, applied to the E.U. to have Pest Control’s attempt to trademark “Flower Thrower” declared invalid. Banksy responded by creating “Gross Domestic Product,” a pop-up store in Croydon, south London, in an effort to show he was actively using his trademark to make and sell his own merchandise. It included a three-panel “Flower Thrower” print.
However, the intellectual property office noted that Banksy has been quoted as saying, “For the past few months I’ve been making stuff for the sole purpose of fulfilling trademark categories under E.U. law.”
The office said that Banksy had not used his trademark “to commercialize goods and carve out a portion of the relevant market, but only to circumvent the law.”
“It’s not good for Banksy,” said Enrico Bonadio, a senior lecturer in law at City University in London, who said a trademark needs to be used seriously.
But Mr. Bonadio thinks the ruling is unlikely to lead to unmasking the true identity of the world’s most famous artist-provocateur. “He only needs to reveal his name if he wants to pursue copyright actions,” he said. “Keeping anonymity is more important to Banksy than winning copyright cases.”
The British newspaper The Mail on Sunday said in 2008 that Banksy is Robin Gunningham, a man born in Bristol, western England, who had dropped out of private school before becoming involved in the street art scene in Bristol and London. The artist’s identity has yet to be definitively revealed.
Joanna Brooks, Banksy’s press spokeswoman, has not responded to a request for a comment from the artist.
Meanwhile, the website of Full Colour Black is now offering greeting cards based on the contested Banksy image, retitled “Flower Bomber,” priced at £2.99, or about $3.90, each.