With Demna Gvasalia bringing back some 1990’s staples, such as the Champion sweatshirt, etc., by way of his label, Vetements, there is a chance that NASA will be making a comeback over the next several seasons. As distinct from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, at least in name, Nice and Safe Attitude is the label responsible for the NASA-emblazoned wares that were popular amongst what Dazed Digital calls “rave, B-boy and Ragga style”-influenced London club kids.
More than just a t-shirt company, N.A.S.A. was one of the strongest forces behind 1990’s rave culture in Europe. Per TechTools, “By the early 1990s, it became more challenging for promoters to organize one-off events. New laws were passed in an attempt to discourage promoters from holding raves. Despite this, organizations such as Fantazia, Universe, N.A.S.A. (Nice and Safe Attitude), Raindance, Amnesia House, ESP, and Helter Skelter were holding large-scale legal raves in warehouses and fields.”
N.A.S.A. had a strong presence in Germany, as well. As a result of the UK’s Criminal Justice Bill of 1994, which discouraged massive outdoor raves, the Paul Shurey and Ian Jenkinson-organized Tribal Gathering moved to Munich, Germany. In cooperation with "N.A.S.A/ Hannover Nice And Safe Attitude,” the 1994 event was widely considered to be “one of the most exciting events in Munich, with the Universe/Tribal Gathering being the best event in Germany in 1994.”
Given such widespread appreciation for the N.A.S.A. brand and its events, it is not surprising that its wares permeated the club kid scene on an international basis. Problematic is the fact that at first glance, Nice and Safe Attitude’s garments – mainly, t-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets – appear to be an official National Aeronautics and Space Administration or NASA product, as the two parties’ logos were exactly the same. The only significant difference: Beneath the NASA logo, the rave gear brand’s wears said "Nice And Safe Attitude.” As a result, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration embarked on a legal fight to reclaim the exclusive right to use its logo.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration vs. Nice and Safe Attitude: The UK Proceedings
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration attempted take down of Nice and Safe Attitude began in 1995 after Julian Lamorgn Higgins, owner of Nice and Safe Attitude, sought to register the NASA mark in the UK in Class 25 for: “Articles of outer clothing: all included in Class 25, but not including clothing relating to aviation or aeronautics.” Following the UK intellectual Property Office (“IPO”)’s publication of the NASA trademark application on November 1, 1995, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration filed to oppose the registration, on five grounds. It argued that Nice and Safe Attitude’s mark:
i. Was not adapted to distinguish Nice and Safe Attitude’s goods;
ii. Was incapable of distinguishing their goods;
iii. Would be likely to cause confusion or deceive the public;
iv. Did not belong to them;
v. Would not constitute a trademark.
In support of its motion for opposition, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration argued that the “worm” logo was a fundamental and integral part of its organization, which had worldwide recognition and distinctiveness, especially within the UK. According to the space administration’s opposition motion, companies that wish to produce and sell souvenirs and merchandise featuring the NASA “worm” logo, in jurisdictions other than the U.S., are required to obtain a license, which allows for “no alteration whatsoever [to the logo], which must appear either alone or with the full ‘National Aeronautics and Space Administration’ name.”
Per the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, Nice and Safe Attitude refused to do this, but “nevertheless proceeded to use the logo as the basis of their mark,” which the National Aeronautics and Space Administration regarded as being adopted for the primary purpose of “benefitting from the reputation of ... the NASA logo and the public’s recognition of the NASA logo.”
Nice and Safe Attitude opposed all grounds of refusal made by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, claiming that its use of the “worm” logo as an acronym was to be in the form of a parody. Further, they claimed that there was no intention to deceive or confuse the public, as the phrase “Nice and Safe Attitude” was featured below the stylized logo and consequently was capable of distinguishing the two marks.
In a decision of the IPO on 13 January 1999, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration lost their claim against the registration of a mark featuring a modified version of their “worm” logo, holding the possibility of confusion and deception could not be relied upon as there had been no prior use of the “worm” logo within the UK. In support of this, the Hearing Officer for the IPO held that at the time of Nice and Safe Attitude’s application, the presence of NASA merchandise in the UK was only because items were brought into the jurisdiction by tourists.
Despite having no commercial dealings in the UK, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration sought to rely on the goodwill that was attached to their mark, as derived from associations that the organization had with UK institutions and projects. The IPO did not find this to be sufficient. Moreover, it held that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration’s goodwill argument was too prospective and somewhat restrictive, as its scope encompassed the protection of the public from potential confusion by the applicant’s mark.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration vs. Nice and Safe Attitude: The U.S. Proceedings
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration also initiated proceedings in the U.S. around the same time to fight a pending NASA trademark filed by Nice and Safe Attitude. In May 1995, Nice and Safe Attitude filed to register its mark for use on clothing with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (“USPTO”). The mark was published for opposition and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration did just that, arguing that the mark was too similar to its own and as a result, it would cause confusion amongst consumers. After battling out in front of the USPTO and the Trademark Trial and Appeal Board (“TTAB”), the TTAB ultimately ruled in favor of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration, terminating Nice and Safe Attitude’s trademark in August 1998.
So, what does this mean for Vetements or whatever brand might chose to resurrect the Nice and Safe Attitude trademark? Well, absent authorization from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the U.S., any wares will likely be deemed problematic. And judging by the NASA v. NASA proceedings, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration will not be as excited about the use of its trademark as DHL, which agreed to allow Vetements to use its trademarked logo, has been.
In the UK, it might not be a sure win, either, as the court sided with Nice and Safe Attitude in 1999, after observing that the National Aeronautics and Space Administration did not have a significant enough presence there for such trademark usage by Nice and Safe Attitude to cause confusion. Chances are, however, this ruling may not stand in 2016, particularly given the rise of the internet and expanded presence of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration in the past 17 years. Either way, it would be in any brand’s best interest to run this one past NASA (the space organization) before slapping their logo on any garments or accessories.