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Pizza dooms effort to trademark 111

Published: 5:29AM Friday November 11, 2011 Source: Fairfax

An attempt by the emergency services to trademark the number 111 has been thrown out by the Intellectual Property Office, amid fears that the number could end up being used for ordering pizza.

A joint application was made by police, the Fire Service and St John to register 111 as a trademark, with police saying they were seeking to protect the integrity of the number.

The application was refused by assistant commissioner of trademarks Jenny Walden, after opposition from Telecom.

A ruling in favour of the emergency services would have meant they could have barred people from using the number 111 on a variety of goods or services, including vehicle licence plates or in education and advertising.

Walden agreed with Telecom's objections that trademarking 111 would cause public confusion and unnecessary worry for business owners.

A trademark had to be used in trade, and the police and Fire Service were not commercial traders, she said.

"If 111 becomes a trademark, would the New Zealand public start phoning the emergency services number to order goods and services in the same way as they might do when ordering a pizza on the Pizza Hut phone number and trademark?" Walden asked.

"The applicants have not satisfied me that this would not happen."

There were already difficulties with false 111 calls, she said.

Service operator Telecom received 2.7 million 111 calls each year, of which only 36 per cent were passed through to emergency services as genuine, she said.

There was also the possibility that people would not phone 111 in an actual emergency, because they would think they would be charged, she said.

"This confusion could lead to serious consequences."

She awarded Telecom costs of $3300.

Police Assistant Commissioner Viv Rickard said the trademark had been sought to prevent the number's misuse on goods and services marketed commercially in the security and emergency area.

"We feel sure that the public wholeheartedly believes 111 should be vested with the emergency services of New Zealand, rather than any commercial entity," he said.

Misuse had not been widespread, but the application was part of a wider move by emergency services to protect aspects of their identity, Rickard said.

The three services would now take time to consider the judgment, he said.

A Telecom spokeswoman said it was "comfortable" with the decision. She said it had opposed the trademark because it would have made it difficult for Telecom to do its job as a telecommunications provider.

"If it was trademarked, we feel the application should include Telecom as well."

Telecom tried to trademark the number in 1994, but the bid was abandoned four years later.

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