Love and brand-name cachet up for grabs
Porsche, Daimler, Maserati, I love you among number plates Transport Department will put to auction
A beaten-up Toyota could soon be driving around Hong Kong with the name Maserati on its number plate - provided the owner can come up with enough money and isn't outbid by the brand's owner.
That's the tantalising prospect raised for car owners as the first personalised plates to be auctioned next month were announced.
Porsche and Daimler are also on the list, along with other well-known brand names that don't carry quite the same cachet, such as TVB, PCCW and HKU. But the Transport Department and experts say there should be no copyright problems.
The department will put 210 plates up for auction with a base price of HK$5,000 on September 15.
Other offbeat choices include HEHEHAHA and I LOVE U, with a vehicle licence trading company predicting the latter could go for as much as HK$200,000.
'In the old days plate numbers like LU1314 - an acronym of 'love you forever' in Cantonese - was sold for more than HK$200,000; I am not sure if this one is even better,' said Tsui Yit, director of the Lucky Number Centre.
He said licence plates carrying famous brand names could also be another hit, although he wonders if there are any underlying copyright issues.
'There is likely to be confusion, with people driving vehicles with some famous brands who have nothing to do with them,' he said. 'What if a hearse put on a plate of TVB; wouldn't it be weird?'
Weird as it may be, practising barrister Matthew Au King-cheong said it was not likely that the car owners would face litigation from the brand owners for infringing their trademarks.
'A trademark does not constitute just figures and letters of the name but should be seen as a combination of the words with its design, pattern and colour,' he said.
'I don't see great risk of a copyright issue there, particularly when the registration marks are only used for the identification of a vehicle instead of some commercial companies.'
The Transport Department said it had received a legal opinion that the use of single words and short phrases could not be franchised, so there should not be any copyright implications.
Television Broadcasts confirmed that the patent of their trademark TVB is valid only in the media and broadcasting industry and does not extend to usage on car plates.
A spokeswoman said the broadcaster was happy its brand had won such recognition and did not rule out bidding for its own plate.
Applicants who propose registration marks have no guarantee of bringing their creations home and have to pay a deposit of HK$5,000 when they lodge their applications. The deposit will be returned to them if they are outbid.
A spokeswoman for the University of Hong Kong said the university would bid for registration marks bearing its initials, but she said it would not bid too high or use public funds. University staff had proposed five versions of HKU with different numbers.
PCCW offered no comment yesterday.
The Transport Department said another 500 proposed registration marks that have already been approved by the vetting committee are on the way to public auction, with the next one due in late October at the earliest.
The new personalised vehicle registration plates should not:
- consist of more than eight letters/numerals. 'I', 'O' and 'Q' are not allowed
- the combinations must not duplicate existing registration plates
- they must not be offensive to a reasonable person, or have offensive connotations
- they must not give the impression that the vehicle belongs to, or the person using the vehicle represents the Hong Kong government or any public body, or any other government, or any international organisation
Source: Transport Department