Trade Marks: Even since it’s earliest days, Coca-Cola has seen IP as it’s secret ingredient for success…
Trade marks are the cornerstone of big brands. It could be the name that a company builds recognition around or many other things. (Like: logos, colours, shapes and even… smells!)
Whatever it may be, big businesses spend a lot of time and money registering and enforcing them. But even so – it can often be unclear to everyday people… why are trade marks so important?
Well, another way to look at it would be to ask: what would a world-famous product look like without it’s trade marks…?
Virtuoso Legal investigates.
Case Study: Coca-Cola
Coca-Cola is one of the most iconic commodities of the past century. Known also as “Coke”, the drink is the most recognisable and profitable soda in the world.
The beverage is produced by the Coca-Cola Company in the form of a syrupy concentrate. This is then sent to licensed bottlers around the world, who add sweeteners and water.
(People often note that it tastes different depending on which country you’re in! That’s because the sweeteners and water added can differ depending on where you are!)
Once made up, the drink is bottled (or canned!) before sending it to shops and restaurants. Here the drink is wrapped in various packaging that’s synonymous with Coca-Cola.
Many attributes of this packaging are trade marked to make sure that others can’t masquerade as Coke..!
Always the real thing?
In the UK, the Coca-Cola Company has registered 484 different trade marks over the years. These refer to a range of products the company has produced. These include: Fanta, the (ill-fated) Dasani water, and the entire range of Coke products.
In relation to a glass bottle of Coca-Cola , the company holds rights to:
1. The words “Coca-Cola” and “Coke”
2. The associated stylised logos for “Coca-Cola” and “Coke”
3. Slogans such as “Coca-Cola Open Happiness” that may appear on the packages. (This also includes hashtags like “#shareacoke”; though this is not registered with the UK IPO)
4. Visual layout graphics on the label (e.g. the “wave”)
5. The bottle itself! (“The mark consists of a 3 dimensional shape with the words “Coca-Cola” appearing thereon”)
That’s a lot of distinctive features that the Company have protected!
Now, imagine now a glass bottle of Coke in your mind.
Now, if you remove each of these elements in sequence, what would you be left with?
Best-case scenario, you have a brown liquid in a nondescript bottle. Worst-case scenario, you have a very sticky mess on the table! (A lack of bottle will do that!)
Trade Marks: The takeaway point
This might seem a random thought experiment to conduct. Of course, Coca-Cola would be presented in a familiar bottle, with its name and slogans visible. It makes common sense (!)
But when it comes to consumers making a purchasing decision, trade marks are crucial…
If tomorrow every single can and bottle of Coca-Cola on the shelf was sold in a blank jar…
If tomorrow any other company could freely use Coca-Cola’s marks on their own products…
It would likely destroy Coca-Cola’s prescience in the mind of consumers within 1 month.
Whilst the product (the brown liquid) is popular – people don’t “see” that when they think of Coca-Cola. They think of the name, and all the elements that the Company have carefully protected.
This distinguishes them from their competitors, and signals the promise of their brand. (Namely, that drinks marked with the recognisable brand will be the best available.)
The same goes for any other business. Trade marks set you out from the crowd – and provide unique signs that you can build your reputation around… (and which become something you really can’t do without!)
So next time you’re shopping, have a think about the products you’re buying. How would you feel about them if they did not have their trade marks?
by Martin Hendry · Published April 20, 2017
· Last modified June 4, 2019