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Battle of the brands: Trouble in trademark land

Our picks of the persnickety trademark bunch, plus predictions for the near and not-so-near future.
Trouble in trademark land

To the despair of independent brewers who say “Radler” is a style of beer, not a brand, DB has trademarked the beer name “Radler” for its Monteith’s range.

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“Radler”, meaning "cyclist" in German, was developed as a style of beer to quench the thirst of cyclists, diluting the alcohol content with lemonade so they were still able to ride their bikes home. The word’s used in the same way as pilsner, another beer style, on beer brands all over Germany and throughout the world, but here in New Zealand it’s now trademarked as a DB brand. Pish tosh.

What’s more, any lederhosen-clad pedalling German lad will tell you that what Monteith’s is pumping out isn’t even formulated like the real deal Radler. Shame.

It’s a battle begging comparison to David and Goliath, but then it seems so many trademark cases are. Today we present our pick of the persnickety trademark bunch ©.

Be careful where you put that colouring-in pen

Did you know Cadbury owns that shade of purple? Various smaller confectionery brands have tried their luck with the suspiciously tempting tone, falling victim to the chocolate giant.

In the EU feta is only feta if it’s from certain parts of Greece

Same goes for Italy’s Parma ham, and what you’ve got in your glass isn’t champagne unless it’s from the province, darling.

It is even possible to register olfactory trademarks

Yup, it's possible that stench wafting through your office right now is not organic, but owned. One of the first successful smelly trademark cases in the UK was won by rubber tyre company Sumitomo Rubber Co., which registered “a floral fragrance/smell reminiscent of roses as applied to tyres”. This really begs the question of whether anyone else would bother trying to make their tyres smell like roses, but I guess it’s better to be safe than sorry...

Burger King in Australia was forced to brand itself Hungry Jack’s

because the name was already trademarked by a takeaway store in Adelaide—a rare stroke on the scoreboard for the underdog.

Usually in trademark cases it’s the small independent that loses out. Ridiculous cases have seen Kiwi underdogs get the chop, too, albeit with some sarky Kiwi class. A West Coast hotel, ‘Formerly the Blackball Hilton’, was forced to fiddle with its name after the global Hilton hotel chain muscled up.

And when fashion designer Trelise Cooper filed a case against Arrowtown accessory designer Tamsin Cooper, it was a case of thou shalt not use thine own name. Business owners in her hometown doctored their own signage, adding ‘Cooper’ to the end of their business names in support. Cooper (Trelise, that is) later dropped the case.

Here at Idealog we like to think we’re pretty up with the play when it comes to things branded, so we’ve actually predicted the words we expect to lose to brand in the next year or so.

You might still be able to call a spade a spade, but who knows what will keep the doctor away if Apple succumbs to the trademark game. Actually, we’re expecting the brand to wipe out the entire fruit bowl in the next year, with Orange, Blackberry and Zespri becoming household words of the past.

But if you’re about to flick open a tab and “google” this, don’t think you can be so loose with your language—soon enough you won’t be “googling”, but rather “searching on Google” (mind that verb!).

I know, now you’re thoroughly confused about what you can and can’t say. But never fear; all will be forgotten in a couple of months when the (ahem) “great rugby event” comes to town.

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