Visual is taking over

A good indication of the state of our society is gleaned from examining the logos that we assign to our largest and smallest companies. In the past decade there has been a huge paradigm shift from word based logos to entirely image based logos. What does this say and mean for the field of intellectual property? Take a look.

TwitterStarbucksShell logoTwo years ago I wrote a blog post about the growing use of
trade marks comprising logos but no text. That post arose
partly from an interview we published with David Cho
of AT&T, and partly from some articles in marketing
publications and online.

In the two years since then, the trend has continued and
probably even accelerated, driven by recognition of the appeal
of simple images online and in social media (think about the
popularity of emojis), the desire to cross borders of language
and script, and possibly also the interest among marketers in
using personalised names instead of or as well as brand names
(for example Coca-Cola and Starbucks).

We felt the trend raised some interesting trade mark issues
that ought to be explored more fully. Luckily, earlier this
year I had a conversation with Lisa Pearson of Kilpatrick
Townsend & Stockton. As some readers will know, Lisa wrote
an article for Managing IP in 2008 titled “How fluid marks can enhance your brand”
which led to her being presented with a 2009 Burton Award for
Legal Achievement. She also chairs the IP Outer Borders Team of MARQUES, whose
members look into various issues on the fringes of trade mark

Verbal-visualIt took just a little persuasion to
convince Lisa that she should write an article on logos without
words or, as she has since dubbed them, “universal sign marks”.
Along with her colleagues Jill Tomlinson and Sam Kilb, she has
produced an original, well illustrated and thoughtful piece on
the topic. 

One of the points the authors make is that it’s not really
correct to call these marks “logos” at all, as logotypes are
stylised presentations of words. Instead, they have come up
with a classification and labelling system (left) that
illustrates the different types of design marks, and in the
article they examine them from both a marketing and a legal

They also discuss eight best practices for brand owners who
plan to use such universal sign marks, spanning questions such
as choosing a symbol, identifying it, registering it (including
whether to register separately from the word mark and whether
to do so in colour or black and white) and avoiding the
pitfalls that can arise. 

The article includes various examples and case studies, as
well as links to other resources on this topic, and I recommend
it to anyone involved in protecting or enforcing trade marks.
You can read it online (subscription or free trial
required) now or, if you prefer paper, in our November issue,
which will be with subscribers next week. Copies of that issue
will also be available to pick up at the INTA Leadership
Meeting and ASIPI Annual Conference, so look out for it there.
Finally, I have a very limited number of complimentary copies
that I would be happy to post out to anyone who can’t otherwise
read it but would like to do so:
me your details if that is the case.

I hope you’ll agree with me that the article raises lots of
original and useful points. However, we recognise that this is
a developing area and it is not the last word on the topic. In
particular, it would be interesting to get perspectives on some
of the issues raised from elsewhere in the world, especially
where the law is fundamentally different from that in the
United States. We would certainly welcome comments on the
article and proposals for follow-up pieces.