The resurrection of abandoned brands is a topic that always catches our interest – regular readers of our blog will no doubt be familiar with our earlier posts on so-called ‘zombie’ brands here, here and here. Another example has presented itself in the news this week after Keep Britain Tidy (‘KBT’) (the UK’s leading anti-litter charity) announced the relaunch of its own cultural icon, the ‘Tidyman’.

The Tidyman logo was first launched and registered as a trade mark in the UK by KBT in the 1970s in order to discourage thoughtless dropping of litter and to raise environmental awareness. Since then, the Tidyman has appeared widely across all types of product packaging with the aim of serving as a consistent reminder for us to dispose of our litter responsibly. Back in 2010, KBT took the decision to ‘bin’ the Tidyman and to replace it with a fresh new logo to complement the launch of a campaign called ‘Love Where You Live’. The replacement logo consisted of a white figure with a green square background and featured a green heart symbol.

Six years on, it seems that the British public are still dropping a disappointing amount of litter. This prompted further research by KBT which revealed that more than 8 out of 10 adults still instantly recognised the original Tidyman logo, and its meaning, but unfortunately its successor had not achieved the same degree of recognition. It seems that this finding has prompted the decision to revive and relaunch the original Tidyman, but not exactly as he appeared before. The design team that worked with KBT have updated him with small changes in an effort to resonate with new and younger audiences and “to connect more actively across digital and traditional channels”. To promote his return, a 6ft model of the updated Tidyman icon has recently been positioned at various locations around London to reinvigorate the anti-litter campaign and encourage the public to follow his example.

It is clear that the relaunch has enabled KBT to re-energise an important cultural icon, yet at the same time tap into the value and goodwill of the heritage and widespread renown that it offers – a common underlying motivation behind most brand resurrection strategies. But KBT’s change of heart has not been executed without legal risk as it could have easily encountered issues relating to intervening rights, i.e. a situation where a third party had resurrected the original logo following KBT’s abandonment of the same.

Openly abandoning the use of a brand will undoubtedly render any corresponding trade mark registrations vulnerable to revocation on the grounds of non-use after 5 consecutive years. That said, the subsequent resumption of use can revalidate those registrations (subject to certain conditions). In this case, it is evident from the UK Trade Mark Register that KBT allowed their original trade mark registrations for the Tidyman logo (dating back to 1975) to lapse due to non-renewal back in the late 1990s. Whilst the Tidyman’s ‘Love Where You Live’ replacement logo was protected in 2010, a replacement registration for the original Tidyman was not then refiled until 2014. We presume that a new application will soon be underway to protect the new 2017 version of the logo.

KBT’s about-turn serves as a useful reminder to brand owners of the importance of implementing a considered strategy towards brand abandonment. There is no doubt that old, iconic heritage brands of the past retain significant goodwill and reputation long after their departure from the marketplace. A new brand can often take years to earn that same degree of recognition, trust and loyalty amongst nostalgic consumers, which is exactly what makes the revival of an older brand an attractive proposition for others. For this reason, we would always encourage any brand owners who are considering the abandonment of a brand to explore all available options to capitalise on that asset (for example, through its sale or licensing), rather than simply allow it to fade into a wasted commercial opportunity. At the very least, brand owners should consider renewing any trade mark registrations and should try to refrain from issuing public statements confirming its abandonment.