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Ant Bytes — AA15

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UGG’s REVENGE

The boots might be warm and fuzzy, but the term “Ugg/Ugh” sends chills down the spines of many Australian retailers. For decades, “Ugg/Ugh” remained off the Australian Register of Trademarks, largely because it was considered by manufacturers and retailers to be a generic term in Australia. Then US giant Deckers Outdoor Corporation registered “Ugg” (and its derivatives) as an Australian trade mark and, like all diligent patent and trade mark holders, began mailing cease and desist notices to Australian retailers selling boots under the name(s).

The story created a squall of outrage in Australia (see www.saveouraussieicon.com) and quickly became the quintessential cautionary tale on the need to secure your intellectual property. But now the story has taken another twist. When Bronwyn and Bruce McDougall, proprietors of small Perth-based sheepskin footwear business Uggs-NRuggs, received a warning from Deckers to remove the “Ugg” from their company name, they engaged Patent and Trade Mark Attorneys Wray & Associates to assess their options. Dr Mike Brewis at Wray & Associates urged the McDougalls to seek the removal of the registration from the Register of Trade Marks, as there had been no use of the trade mark for over three years. IP Australia agreed, and Deckers failed to appeal within the specified period.

It’s hard to believe that the Empire won’t strike back. But for now you can once again refer to your Ugg Boots as “Uggs” without feeling the need to peer over your shoulder.

ANTIVERSITY

Illustration: Sam Griffin

We knew it all along (and we suspect, loyal reader, that you did too). But it is nice to gain vindication from science from time to time.

A research paper published in the journal Nature has revealed that ants are the first non-human animals to exhibit teaching behaviour.

That’s right, not content with lifting ten times their own body weight and building skyscrapers just for kicks, ants have been observed conducting tutorials for their brethren.

Researchers from the University of Bristol observed the Temnothorax albipennis ant foraging on a tabletop in search of food, then returning to guide others. The leaders steered the followers to the area of food and, once the food was discovered and the terrain made familiar, the followers invited the next lesson by tapping the leader with their antennae.

The paper’s author, Professor Nigel Franks, said the leaders found the food four times faster by going straight for the food themselves rather than leading the other ants. Even dragging the other ants by the mouth and dumping them in front of the food, as some of the more impatient leader ants did on occasion, was three times faster than teaching.

So why the altruism?

It appears that ants have a very tight grasp on the concept of community and how it relates to productivity. In short, many ants make light work. Or, as the Chinese proverb says, “Give an ant a crumb; you have fed him for today. Teach an ant to forage; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”

GET ‘EM YOUNG

You’ve heard the term “born into bondage”. Well here is the modern day equivalent. UK bank, Abbey, recently sent one-year-old Daisy Bartlett a personally addressed letter inviting her to take out a ?20,000 bank loan.

The letter, opened by Daisy’s mum, read: “Maybe the house could do with a lick of paint or perhaps you just want to splash out on something special like a holiday. Which is why a loan of up to ?20,000 would come in very handy. You could use the money to treat yourself right now. Or you could use it to transfer any debts and bills into one affordable loan.”

Sure, people are discovering the joys of debt at a younger and younger age these days. But baby Daisy could be forgiven for passing over this opportunity of her brief lifetime. When asked to explain, a spokesperson reported that while the bank occasionally offered small personal loans to children, this had been a database error.

Illustration: Sam Griffin

A MATTER OF ANGLES

Seasonal Affective Disorder (S.A.D.) is common in regions near the poles, such as Scandinavia, where the lack of sunlight for many months can lead to hormonal imbalances in the population, contributing to high rates of depression, alcoholism and suicide. But you don’t have to live in Iceland for the winter blues to get you down.

Consider the 70 inhabitants of Viganella – an Italian village nestled deep in a valley in the Piedmont region. In winter, sunshine on Viganella is so scarce that the Mayor has announced plans to spend 100,000 (AU$160,000) fixing a mirror to a nearby mountain to reflect sunlight into the town’s main piazza from November to February each year. For Scandinavians, alas, the problem remains rather more vexing.

A BUYER’S MARKET

Who says Israelis and Palestinians can’t get along?

The unique power of commerce to bring people together has never been more evident than in the troubled region of Gaza. During recent Muslim protests over the Prophet Mohammed cartoon series published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten, Palestinian flag store owners enjoyed a brisk trade selling normally scarce Danish flags – which were promptly burnt on the street.

Several entrepreneurial Palestinians observed that local demand for Danish flags was on the rise and ordered bulk supplies from Taiwanese manufacturers. Reuters also reported that one such retailer, from the PLO Flag Shop, also purchases Israeli flags from a merchant in Israel, which he then sells to be burnt at anti-Israeli rallies.

Danish and Norwegian flags were selling for US$11 each, though evidently many locals thought that was a little steep and resorted to creating their own from scrap cardboard and fabric.

Supply and demand, dear Anthillians. Supply and demand.

Illustration: Sam Griffin

If you’ve trawled through any of the online gift websites recently, you might have stumbled across this curiosity: Foster-a-Vine Experience. It is billed as “the next best thing to having your own vineyard!”

Who needs those magnificent rolling vistas and the enviable vineyard lifestyle when you can adopt your own grapevine, located in South Australia’s Clare Valley, for three growing seasons (complete with framed certificate authenticating your foster parent status and a plaque bearing your name attached to the lucky vine).

But that’s not all. “You will receive an annual invitation … to don your wellies and help harvest the vineyard.” Half your luck! And as a reward, “We’ll send you each year by email, a digital photo of the vineyard at veraison (grapes turning colour)” and two bottles of plonk. Cost: $159. Hangover: priceless!

It would be fair to say that the people at Foster-a-Vine Experience are on to a good thing.

IF YOU CAN’T BEAT ‘EM, CHARGE ‘EM

Failing miserably in their battle to stop graffiti artists from defacing the Great Wall of China, Chinese officials have taken yet another leaf out of the capitalism playbook, announcing that they will now charge visitors 999 yuan (AUD$170) for the right to scrawl their chosen message on a brick at an artificial section of the wall. The idea is to allow people to scratch the itch to leave their mark, without damaging China’s most recognisable landmark.

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