Celebrating “National Old Stuff Day”

06 March 2017

Just imagine. Another early Wednesday morning bathroom rush hour on the way to work. You toss your finest Gillette blade aside, clear the vanity of all lotions and Estée Lauder potions, and hum along to the radio jingles. A swift swig of Aquafresh and you are practically out the door. The Audi engine is roaring to go impatiently when you have to double back for your evening shopping list and, essentially, your lunchtime Hobnobs. A little less time on Youtube’s vast array of cat videos, the conclusive top ten of David Beckham’s haircuts or one less game on the Sony PS last night would have made this morning a little smoother. In the car, you try to drown out the tailgating blue Mini by recalling the countless items on your shopping list: some more Dolmio sauce for tonight’s Italian feast? A box of Celebrations wouldn’t go amiss either? Yet all you can think of is a steaming red takeaway cup of Starbucks to go to kickstart the day properly. In this happy contemplation, you cast your mind back…

In celebration of National Old Stuff day last week, we thought it was the perfect opportunity to dust up some old trade marks. Dust up? Not quite. This week, for instance, marks the respective 10+ year birthdays of the European trade marks weaved into the introduction above, all of which are still in use today. Inspired by this national occasion we set about to have a look at the trade mark history charts.

With its earliest filing date on 1 April 1996, the European Union registry is only a toddler compared to various registries worldwide. The US federal registry, for instance, opened for trade mark business on 20 July 1870 by virtue of the Act commencing on that same day. Applications soon came pouring in but the first mark to be issued to registration was, fittingly, a device with an eagle holding in its beak a pot of paint owned by Averill Chemical Paint Company. The oldest American registration for edible goods which is still in use today (albeit with an updated logo) was issued in November 1870: Underwood’s canned deviled hams “Intended for Sandwiches, Luncheons, and Traveler’s Repasts”.

Next up the Hong Kong registry, pipped the UK registry to the post when it registered Nestlé’s Eagle Brand for condensed milk in 1874, and this just two years before the legendary UK Application number UK00000000001 was registered as the first UK trade mark on 1 January 1876. ABInBev celebrated this victory in the national race to registration with a rebranding of the Bass Pale Ale to ‘Bass Trade mark No.1.’. 1893 heralded the 14th application under the Madrid Agreement. In itself this may not appear to be worth remembering, but the Swiss Longines mark incorporating the familiar winged hourglass was the first trade mark to obtain the International Registration in the six member States at the time (Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Portugal, Spain and Switzerland). Moreover, the original trade mark can still be found on the Longines watches today. Last on our list, on the other side of the globe, Australia joined the race to trade mark protection with its first registration issuing in 1905.

While, on the one hand, the relevant trade mark registries around the world provide accessible proof of their registration history, unregistered trade marks, on the other, are subject to more speculation. The search for the oldest (unregistered) trade marks in the world appears to be a never-ending quest. While some enthusiasts fervently support S.P.Q.R. and VENI, VIDI, VICI, others went looking for the holy grail (and surprising contents?) of trade marks still in use in the food and, more importantly, drinks sector. At present the contenders for the oldest unregistered trade marks still in use are Weihenstephaner, a trade mark for a German beer allegedly used since 1040, and in second place is Wielicka, used for kitchen salt since 1241. Both marks were named after their place of origin and have withstood the test of time. Two more beers (there appears to be a pattern emerging) claiming to have the oldest continuously used trade mark in the world are Stella Artois (since 1366) and Lowenbrau shortly after since 1383. While all of these trade marks have now been issued through the relevant registries around the world, it is worth remembering that trade marks have always been creatures born of and catered for consumer memory and they have been around for many centuries.

A last category worth featuring on our charts today is that category of trade mark which has transcended its form and purpose. William Shakespeare may be responsible for around 1700 neologisms in the English language, many trade marks which were originally legally protected invented names have now been partly or fully genericised. Over the years, some have even lost their legal status altogether due to becoming generic terms.

“Phew, I just got back from that cashpoint around the corner. By the way, did you manage to finish that powerpoint presentation last night?
Yes, I saved it on this memory stick. Luckily we managed to photoshop some of the googled images to make them match our company colour themes.”

The words cashpoint, powerpoint, memory stick, photoshop and google were once solely protected legal marks for companies such as Lloyds Bank, Microsoft, Sony etc used to advertise their goods. Today, however, they are still those protected rights but they are now also widely understood and used by the general public in everyday discourse. Trade marks such as Kleenex, Velcro and Vaseline for example have become so evocative they are sometimes thought to be synonymous with the goods they represent. This is how trade marks have not only affected our consumer options and choices but our daily lives to boot.

Have you thought of any more examples where trade marks have crept into the English language? We would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below.

…Awakening from your Wednesday wayback reverie only to find yourself parked in your usual spot at work. You rifle hurriedly through your Tommy Hilfiger bag for Strepsils and your office badge. With an elegant twirl you narrowly avoid being run over by an enthusiastic UPS van (thanks to your brand new Nike trainers) and trundle into work ready to write another day in IP history.

Happy National Old Stuff day! And prost!

Laura Robyn

Laura Robyn

Trainee Trade Mark Attorney

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