• AOPA has been using the phrase "Freedom to Fly" in several contexts for many years. (Steve Hitchen)
    AOPA has been using the phrase "Freedom to Fly" in several contexts for many years. (Steve Hitchen)

Recreational Aviation Australia (RAAus) and the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) look set to do battle over the use of the phrase "Freedom to Fly".

The dispute erupted last week after it emerged that RAAus was granted a trade mark registration for the slogan on 27 June this year. AOPA claims it has used the term for several decades.

According to AOPA CEO Ben Morgan, RAAus sent AOPA a letter last week stating that AOPA would need to pay a licence fee if they continued to use the slogan.

"Ironically, it now seems that our 'Freedom to Fly' is no longer free, but available to the highest bidder," Morgan said in his reply to RAAus.

"The AOPA Australia entirely rejects the RAAus proposal that would force our association to enter a licensing agreement with your organisation for the use of the statement 'Freedom to Fly'.

"That the use of this statement could be restricted, controlled, licensed and used by the RAAus for material gain makes a mockery of its meaning to thousands of aircraft owners and pilots nationwide and casts great shame on the RAAus management."

In defending the trademark move, RAAus CEO Michael Linke said they registered the trademark in order to protect it for all non-profit aviation organisations.

" ... we [have] registered the phrase as a public effort to make sure that it can be widely used in the public sphere by all non-profit organisations engaged in the aviation space, as it has been used liberally in the past by so many," Linke said in a reply to AOPA.

"We agree with that principle and welcome expressing the value and meaning of this phrase in our industry. It may be used openly and without limit by any non-profit aviation organisation. As previously conveyed we encourage AOPA to use the phrase freely. RAAus will do so too, and supports others who seek the freedom to fly to do the same - freely, openly and without restriction."

Sport Aircraft Association of Australia president Tony White has come out in support of the AOPA position in an open letter to RAAus.

"The actions to trademark AOPA Australia's 'Freedom to Fly' slogan is viewed as aggressive and does nothing to foster positive working relationships between the RAAus and its peer associations," White said.

"In light of the fact that AOPA Australia, SAAA and others sought to openly invite the RAAus to the General Aviation Summit in July, we question the judgement in pursuing this trademark."

RAAus has said that when the trade mark expires on 27 November 2027, they have no intention to renew it.

AOPA Australia is believed to have access to an intellectual property solicitor and intends to act to have the trade mark registration revoked.

Under Section 84 of the Trade Marks Act 1995, the registrar may revoke registration of a trade mark "if he or she is satisfied that:

                     (a)  the trade mark should not have been registered, taking account of all the circumstances that existed when the trade mark became registered (whether or not the Registrar knew then of their existence); and

                     (b)  it is reasonable to revoke the registration, taking account of all the circumstances."

Among the circumstances to be taken into account is any use of the trade mark. The legislation also makes it clear that the registrar is under no obligation to consider revoking a trade mark.

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