Is it really no big deal if your logo is similar to another company’s logo?
You might change your mind after reading this.
When Quark Inc. ditched it’s logo for a new one, several eyebrows were raised as there were quite a few other logos that looked very similar. Was it a giant conspiracy or mere coincidence? Do great minds really think alike? Unless we do a forensic-style research and investigation, we would not know which of these many designs came first and which, if any, “inspired” the others.
Nobody in serious business intentionally copies another’s corporate logo. That would be as good as commercial suicide,Â since legal suits will surely follow. Most me-too logos come about because people were impressed by the market leader’s logo or believe that it made sense to imitate the market leader as closely as possible. They were therefore inspired to adapt by tweaking and adjusting several components before they exclaimed “viola”. To have an original design can be challenging. It’s just like music. There are 12 notes to an octave and you might hit on the same tune with another music when you mix and match the notes. There’s “nothing new” under the sun.
To protect their intellectual property, some companies register trademarks. However, you can only file within your category. You simply cannot prevent another company calling themselves “Apple” or “Borders”. If all trademarks covered all uses, we would have run out of possible brand names and company names a long time ago.
Investing in a trademark does not guarantee a unique trademark. One famous example is from 1976 when NBC (National Broadcasting Company) released its new logo. That new logo cost a whopping USD600,000 to design. Even 30 years on, this amount is still down right awesome. The much-hyped about unveiling was soon over with a storm rising. Nebraska Educational Television Network pointed out that it had been using the same mono colour for many years. And, the design fee was a mere USD100. Since both companies were in the broadcast business, NBC had to reach a settlement with the Nebraska ETV Network. You would have thought that NBC would know all about it’s competitors but this is obviously not so.
Closer to home is the logo war between two famous bakkwa (barbecued sweetmeat) shops, Bee Cheng Hiang and Fragrance. In a half-page notice run in major dailies, Bee Cheng Hiang Hup Chong Foodstuff had placed its own logo, the Chinese character for “fragrant”, side by side with the logo of Fragrance Foodstuff which includes a stylistic representation of the same Chinese character. The notice sought to clarify that the two companies were unrelated. Fragrance then obtained summary judgment in the High Court (the second highest court in Singapore, from which appeals proceed to the highest, the Court of Appeal) against Bee Cheng Hiang for infringing the former’s copyright by using its logo, which was also a registered trade mark, without permission. The judge found that Bee Cheng Hiang’s notice subtly suggested that Fragrance’s bakkwa was inferior to its own. Also, the notice misled people into perceiving Bee Cheng Hiang had first use of the Chinese character “xiang”, and that Fragrance was a newbie to the bakkwa industry. This legal case simply point out that logo similarities would cause conflict between rivalry companies and confusion to customers.
So now what? Trademark does not provide total protection. Brand owners and designers cannot know in advance if the new or revamped logo resembles another’s. Paying top money to market research companies or designers may still earn you a legal suit. I honestly don’t have a clear answer on that. You can DIY your logo, buy a logo software or pay someone else to do it. Just think carefully what’s the story behind the logo and proceed with your logo design with all honesty, integrity and passion. At the end of the day, your conscience is clear even though you got an unwanted and undeserved law suit pending.
Talk to us if you need a logo or intend to revamp one.
Check out these related posts on Logo: