“SOCIALLY DISTANCED’’ - TRADEMARKS

COVID prompted redesigned marks

In the midst of COVID-19 outbreak, while people are struggling to follow the social distancing norms, companies are making the best of this opportunity to sensitize and connect with the public through their ‘social distancing’ logos.

Popular brands are setting up a trend of creatively modifying and redesigning their logos to ensure emotional connect of a customer with the brand while acting as the message-bearers of social distancing.                

Several popular brands like Audi, Axe, Chiquita, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Kappa, Mercedes-Benz, Randstad and Volkswagen have skilfully tweaked their logos to encourage physical distancing and discourage emotional distancing with the brands.  By using a modified logo these brands are not only creating awareness but also staying relevant at the time when the customer’s priorities have changed.  

Another innovative way in which these brands are encouraging the precautionary measures to fight COVID is by presenting their Application logos as wearing a face mask. For instance, Urban clap, Goibibo, redBus etc. have a mask on their logos whereas the logo of OYO app can be seen being represented with a hand wash to create awareness about cleanliness and sanitization. The most popular example is that of Google which keeps altering its logo to mark different occasions worldwide.

 

 

Whether using variations of the registered marks involve legal threat?

It is not uncommon to see companies redesigning or making modifications to their trademarks in the wake of such situations but the legal question arising out of such variations or designs is whether such version of registered marks with variations or redesigns are permissible under the trademark laws?  It is observed that the brands are only making insignificant minor alterations or variations, ensuring that the distinctive character of the logo which is responsible for identifying the source of goods and services is not affected from the social distancing tweak given to the logo. Therefore, in our considered opinion, we believe that the proprietors should not change the distinctive character of their trademark while warranting that the redesigned mark is still indicative of origin.

In most cases, if the redesigned mark is short-lived, temporary, for the purpose of social awareness and a bid to adapt to the new business needs and most significantly, if the variant of the registered trademark doesn’t alter the distinctive element of the mark, the altered version may still be enforced in a civil infringement suit. Additionally, going by the fundamental principles of the trademark laws, the brand claiming such minor variations, in all probabilities shall survive infringement and non-use cancellation actions if at all instituted.   

There are no provisions explicitly protecting these fluid marks under the national laws. However, Article 5C (2) of the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property to some extent protects use of such marks which are used with slight variations. It provides that use of a trademark by the proprietor in a form differing in elements “which do not alter the distinctive character of the mark in the form in which it was registered” shall not cause invalidation of the registration and shall not diminish the protection granted to such mark.

 

Conclusion

Companies are innovatively tweaking their brands to their advantage at a time when they are facing a business slowdown. While few brands may opt for obtaining a fresh trademark registration for the redesigned version, the others are looking to utilize the redesigned version only until the pandemic lasts. 

Author: Ms. Soham Goenka
Desig. : Trademark Attorney