From Beer to Vacuums: The Evolving History of Trademarks

By: mgordon | Posted: 07th April 2009

The use of trademarks is something that is seen as a given today when it comes to brand recognition but there was a time, of course, when the issue of brand recognition was not considered as important as it is today. Once upon a time, there was so little competition in the market that it was easy to find what you wanted simply because it was the only version of that product in the store. But when competition is introduced, you need to know what team you are on, and that launched the trademark in earnest. Trademarks enable us to identify the product we wish to buy at a glance.

To say that trademarks are a recent development is something of a red herring. It depends largely upon what you consider to be a trademark. There are those who say that the Polish mining town of Wieliczka, on using the town's name to give the salt mine an element of recognition, created the world's first trademark. Others argue that blacksmiths who stamped their marks on the swords they made in ancient Roman times were the first people to use trademarks. Thinking of something as a trademark may be a more recent development, but companies and manufacturers have perhaps always sought to make their brands recognizable.

Two other trademarks that have been in existence for an extremely long time are European lagers: the German brand Lowenbrau has been in use since 1383, according to the company, while Stella Artois, a Belgian brand, has traded out of the town of Leuwen under that name since 1366. But none of these mentioned trademarks have been registered, which may be the key to officially being a trademark. In those terms, a logo used to give easy recognition to the paint company Averill Paints, was used in the USA and registered with the government in 1870. Although no longer in use, the logo (an eagle) seems to have been the first registered trademark.

Some of the most well known trademarks have become shorthand for the product or device to which they give their name. People passing the vacuum cleaner around their house in some places will in general say that they are doing the "Hoovering", although that name was technically only for machines made by the popular brand of the same name.

Equally, entities that have been set up to have a critical outlook on commercialism have ended up becoming trademark logos by accident. The book "No Logo" by Naomi Klein, written as an excoriating condemnation of big brands crushing smaller companies and pushing their product to ever younger and more inappropriate audiences, became a cult best seller in the late 90s and early 2000s. Before too long people were wearing the title of the book on their clothes, missing the point quite spectacularly.

Trademark infringement occurs when a brand attempts to use another company's trademark to give their brand more attention. However, if used for the sake of comparison - "This car is more efficient and faster than x," then it is allowed.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational and entertainment purposes only, and should not be construed as legal advice on any subject matter. is a complete online resource that compares the legal services offered by various online companies. Find the best company for your registered trademark needs at /.
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Tags: existence, long time, brand recognition, glance, vacuum, paints, shorthand, swords, blacksmiths