A trademark is a distinguishing mark not only for the goods and services offered, but also for the companies that use them. A trademark has a communicative function with consumers, as it can testify to the reputation of a company, to the quality of the products and services offered, and can significantly increase consumer confidence in its owner.
It is usually defined as a sign, for example a word, logo, shape of goods, which serves as an indicator of commercial origin. Given this primary function of trademarks, it is probably not surprising to learn that their history goes back several several tens of centuries. Let’s find out more!
During the Middle Ages, various guilds began to require their members to place symbols (brands) on the goods they produced. These marks have many of the characteristics of modern marks in that they served to guarantee the quality of goods as well as to identify the maker as a member of a particular guild.
Merchants marked their goods, whether to indicate ownership or to guarantee quality. The latter was, for example, one of the main functions performed by guilds in the Middle Ages. The Vikings produced uniquely sharp and durable swords, all bearing the ‘trademark’ ‘Ulfberht’ framed by two crosses.
In 1803, France passed the “Factories, Manufactures and Workplace Act”. It criminalised the act of passing off someone else’s seal as one’s own, as well as misusing other people’s names or misusing the names of production areas. Later, in 1857, France introduced the first comprehensive trademark system with the “Manufacturing and Merchandise Marks Law”. This law continued in France in various forms until 1964, when it was repealed and replaced by the modern French trademark system.
In the United Kingdom, the first trade mark statute (Registration of Trade Marks Act) was passed in 1875. It is believed that on the night before January 1, 1876, when trade mark applications could finally be filed, an officer of the Bass Brewery, originally founded in 1777, was sent to wait at the Patent Office so it could file its first trademark application the next morning. The trademark “Bass” is featured in the iconic painting “Un bar aux Folies Bergère” by Edouard Manet. And to celebrate the fact that it is considered the oldest trademark registration in the modern era, in 2013 Bass Pale Ale was rebranded as Bass Trademark No.1.
Trademarks become proprietary and begin to cover different functions. Not only origin and quality, but also an investment and an indication of a certain lifestyle and values. In this sense, the trademark reflects our current understanding of brands as indicators of more than commercial origin.
Furthermore, trademark law is deeply affected by progressive harmonisation both internationally and regionally. For example, in the European Union, not only is it possible to register pan-European trademarks, but the requirements and scope of national trademark protection are very similar in all EU member states. The first EU directive harmonising national trademark law was adopted in 1988, while in 1994 an EU-wide trademark system was introduced, administered by what is now the European Union Intellectual Property Office ( EUIPO).
Achieving a single trademark registration valid throughout the EU is a success of the EU integration process.
Trademark law has come a long way since its inception. Securing trademark registration can serve companies’ own strategic goals, including benefiting from broader protection for valuable “objects” such as books and characters. You can register a book title or character name as trademarks.
Today, a trademark enables businesses to create and protect their identity through it. Branding helps businesses thrive in today’s complex and challenging environment.
Protection under trademark law is only possible when all relevant registration requirements are met. Careful interpretation and application of trademark principles, including the conditions under which a mark may be protected, is necessary for this area of intellectual property to continue to serve its purpose of protecting both marketers and consumers – now and in the future.
author: Melani Yordanova – associate at IP Consulting