Introduction
Legal protection for brands' exclusivity
Traditional trademarks reimagined
Legal assessment of shift towards minimalist logos
Comment


Introduction

In recent years, many world-famous luxury fashion brands have exchanged their well-known logos which feature distinctive lettering for clean, simple designs. However, some of these fashion brands have used a similarly simple font, and others have even used the exact same sans serif font. When one of the essential functions of a logo is to set the brand apart from its rivals, what benefit can a brand derive from having its logo blend in with those of its fellow market brands? Is this just a question of image or is there a legal consideration behind this choice of uniform design?

When it comes to fashion giants such as Chanel, Gucci, Givenchy and Balenciaga, the brand name fulfils more than just an essential trademark function (eg, product indication). A product bearing the brand name also serves as a status symbol for the person wearing or carrying it. For example, anyone who buys a Birkin bag will not only get an exceptionally high-quality bag, they will also join the exclusive world which Hermés represents – at least, that is the ethos of the marketing strategy behind most luxury brands.

Legal protection for brands' exclusivity

The fact that consumers immediately recognise fashion brands' emblematic logos and associate them with the high quality that they seek to represent is the result of substantial investment on the part of the brands. This also means that the name itself is an essential element of their image and it is therefore crucial to a brand's success that this is protected effectively.

As a result, numerous fashion houses with portfolios extending to thousands of trademarks seek the widest scope of protection for their brand name and related elements. IP law offers numerous tools to protect their intellectual creations, among which trademark law is perhaps one of the most common. A trademark provides an exclusive right over a given designation, which can include a:

  • colour;
  • three-dimensional (3D) shape;
  • position;
  • sound;
  • pattern; or
  • designation which reflects movement.

Fashion houses seek trademark protection not only for the key elements of their image, such as their logo or name, but also for other signs that are integral to the brand. For example, Burberry's well-known checked pattern, the iconic blue of Tiffany's luxury jewellery store and the 3D shape of Dior's J'adore perfume bottle are all trademark protected.

Traditional trademarks reimagined

A fashion brand's image is based on numerous factors, of which the brand name font is a cardinal point. A well-chosen brand name font can instil trust, quality and exclusivity in the consumer, while a less successful choice of font can have a detrimental effect on the brand, the message that it wants to convey and its sales data.

Unsurprisingly, when Burberry's creative director, Ricardo Tisci, came up with a new logo and pattern for the traditional English fashion house, it caused quite a stir in the fashion world. Well known to many since its establishment in 1856, the Burberry brand is now inseparable in many people's minds from the emblematic trench coat, checked pattern and classic style that the brand represents.

Famed for his minimalist taste, Tisci chose not to preserve any feature of the Burberry equestrian logo, which has been under trademark protection since 1905, opting instead for a completely new design. The new logo is the result of the creative director's collaboration with designer Peter Saville, who stated that the duo "settled on 'modern utility'…[the logo] looks like it's been there forever, but it's still contemporary".

Burberry's rebranding has received mixed reviews from the press. For example, Brand New criticised the new logo, saying that the long-standing, classic equestrian Burberry logo had been equally ordinary at the time of its conception, just as the new dry sans serif font designation is in present society. Moreover, the new Burberry logo is no different from the sans serif fonts of other major fashion brands or from Saville's previous creations, such as the redesigned Calvin Klein logo.

Burberry's decision to embrace a distinctive minimalist image reflects the similar decision of many major fashion houses which have also opted for a significantly simpler geometric design. One of the indisputable advantages of logos in bold, clean letters is that they can be adapted easily to different platforms. Luxury brands have also seen sales take a hit at brand stores on the most prestigious streets of major cities as their customers move towards buying their favourite pieces through online stores. After all, an online presence is now an essential requirement for all brands. In addition to having their own websites, brands are present on most social media platforms, where the new sans serif logos are significantly easier to use. They are also much easier to resize to look good on:

  • large posters;
  • shopping bags;
  • products; and
  • Instagram.

However, according to The Fashion Law, there may be a more tangible reason behind this increasing tendency to opt for simpler logos. A significant number of fashion houses are now part of larger parent companies. LVMH (LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE) is perhaps one of the largest companies, bringing together an ever-growing list of more than 75 brands, including:

  • Fendi;
  • Loewe;
  • Rimowa;
  • Berluti;
  • Celine;
  • Givenchy;
  • Dior;
  • Marc Jacobs; and
  • Bvlgari

One of the main goals of listed parent companies is to minimise potential risk. As a result, all products are manufactured – from selecting fabrics through to branding – based on preliminary trend forecasts and careful metrics. Thus, it is perhaps unsurprising that continuous brand unification has started down this track.

These fashion houses have a major impact as the trends which they forecast are followed not only by brands such as the Inditex Group or H&M, which sell mass-produced fashion items, but also by brands in other industries (as Fast Company has observed, from 2018 onwards this trend has also been seen in the IT sector).

Legal assessment of shift towards minimalist logos

The new trend is not for characteristic, chiselled and customised fonts that can stand out from other brands, but rather for unified sans serif logos that can blend in with those of other brands. How this issue is assessed from a trademark law perspective varies depending on whether the brand is a fashion giant changing its image or a fresh start-up choosing an appropriate logo.

With regard to the abovementioned fashion companies, the purpose of a simplified logo may be to facilitate taking action against infringers. In the event of possible infringement, the logos are compared in order to establish whether likelihood of confusion between the marks exists – namely, whether infringement has taken place. Consequently, a figurative mark incorporating a simple sans serif font may enable a brand to be more successful against signs which contain identical or similar elements. In addition, these companies are exposed to infringers and counterfeiters to such an extent that the word elements of their figurative marks have also been protected as word trademarks for the reasons discussed.

However, pursuing this trend may not be the most fortuitous choice for a new brand as a figurative trademark must have a strong distinctive character for it to be successfully registered with a trademark office. In contrast to world-famous fashion houses with established, well-known names, it can be difficult for a new brand whose mark does not incorporate any figurative element or special font to meet this requirement. Choosing exciting, strong logos and names with characteristic fonts not only makes it easier for the logo to be registered as a trademark but can also constitute the cornerstone of a successful business.

A figurative trademark comprising simpler letters or a word trademark may be an ace up the sleeve in combating infringers which seek to register their trademark. However, the word element itself must have a strong distinctive character, and it is easier for a brand with a 100-year-old globally recognised logo to meet this criteria than it is for a start-up.

Comment

For iconic brands with a long history, such as Burberry or Diane Von Furstenberg, a change of logo that is questionable from a design point of view raises fundamentally different issues from a legal standpoint than it does for start-ups. However, these brands have always been one step ahead of the game.

For further information on this topic please contact Aliz Kovács at Danubia Patent & Law Office LLC by telephone (+36 1 411 8700) or email ([email protected]). The Danubia Patent & Law Office LLC website can be accessed at www.danubia.hu.