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Our Rich History: Business branding and regional trademarks — some recognized globally

By John Schlipp
Special to NKyTribune

All of us have identities — sort of like product brands—in addition to our names. Throughout history, even cities have branded themselves. For example, Cincinnati was originally christened as the “Queen City of the West.” Over time, its municipal marker simply became the “Queen City.”

“Suspension Bridge Grand March,” by composer Henry Mayer, to commemorate the official opening of the suspension bridge between Covington, Kentucky, and Cincinnati, Ohio in 1867. This lithograph was by the famous Strobridge & Company of Cincinnati. Courtesy of the Library of Congress.

The iconic John Roebling Bridge linking Cincinnati to Covington is a national landmark that has recently inspired the brand names of beer and other alcoholic beverages in the Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky region. For example, Rivertown Brewing Company offers a popular ale known as Roebling® Vanilla Espresso Imperial Porter.

The well-known Roebling name has even been associated with local Bourbon whiskies. In fact, a special event tied to the region is scheduled for October 4-5, 2019, known as Kentucky’s Edge — Where Bourbon Begins. To learn more about the history of Kentucky’s Bourbon whiskies, click here.

Besides Bourbons, familiar beer brands from Northern Kentucky’s past include trademarks such as Bavarian’s, Oldenburg, and Wiedemann.

Trademark History Timeline. Courtesy McKinney Engineering Library at University of Texas at Austin.

Trademarks of varying types of branding have existed since humans perceived the need to identify items. Case in point, Western movies show how cattle were branded for ownership designation. Ownership of animals has even been documented on cave drawings of early man as far back as 5,000 BCE. Pottery from First Dynasty Egypt has marks believed to be ownership identification. Among the earliest widely recognized trademarks were those stamped on swords and weaponry created by blacksmiths, as well as building bricks, pottery, lamps, and even loaves of bread made during the Roman Empire.

It is important to clarify that trademarks are brands, while not all brands are trademarks. Brands are images representing a company’s reputation, and the products or services it creates. Trademarks are legal protections of brands granted by a government agency such as the US Patent & Trademark Office (USPTO).

The USPTO defines a trademark as any word, name, symbol, device, or any combination, used to identify and distinguish the goods or services of one seller provider from those of others. It also indicates the source of the goods or services. Trademarks registered with the USPTO are marked with an encircled letter “Ⓡ” while those registered by a state government or common law use are marked with a “TM” after the trademarked name or symbol.

Historic P&G Trademark Images. Courtesy of P&G as posted at Atlas Obscura

From an economic standpoint, according to ipwatchdog.com, “a trademark is just a symbol that allows a purchaser to identify goods or services that have been acceptable in the past and reject goods or services that have failed to live up to the desired standards, which will vary from consumer to consumer.”

Trademarks are perhaps the most visible form of intellectual property, especially associated with online businesses. They differentiate your product and/or service from competitors. When one thinks of trademarks, often brand names and logos come to mind. Such branding influences customer recognition and projects the goodwill of a business.

The roots of the famous celestial P&G logo is a classic example of a trademark as a source identifier. Candles and soap were the primary P&G products shipped from Cincinnati’s riverfront in the mid-nineteenth century. A P&G publication from 1944, entitled Into a Second Century with Procter & Gamble, explains the origins of the P&G trademark: “A clerk with artistic aspirations sketched a cluster of stars on a box of candles. Later, a circle was drawn around the stars and the man-in-the-moon added.” After P&G executives stopped this unofficial, ad hoc marking, candle customers refused to accept the boxed candles, claiming they weren’t genuine Star Candles from P&G. Listening to its customers, P&G restored the moon and the stars.

New 2018 P&G logo. Courtesy of P&G

Then, by the 1980s, false accusations spread, claiming that P&G’s famous moon and 13 stars were “agents of satan.” Ultimately the rumors were traced to religious groups and a pyramid-scheme marketing company. Subsequently, the classic trademark went into decline as the P&G letters alone replaced the iconic moon and star. Recently, a simple yet subtle image of the crescent moon has returned on a modern, crisp and clean circular logo with the P&G lettering.

The trademarked logos of the Cincinnati Reds are among the most memorable in major baseball league history. According to the History of Reds Logo, the classic wishbone “C” Reds logo was introduced in 1905. There have been dozens of different “C” logos since the early days of the Red Stockings team. In 1913, the Reds team name was inserted within the classic wishbone “C.”

Throughout the years, the “C” logo has proudly graced five World Series titles (1919, 1940, 1975, 1976, 1990), most notably during the Big Red Machine era of the 1970s. 

Besides baseball’s oldest franchise logo proudly displayed in Cincinnati, soccer fans in the region have something else to cheer about.

New FC Cincinnati logo

A newer sports icon is on the rise as FC Cincinnati’s trademarked logo of a lion insignia with a sword on a blue and orange shield appears all around us on officially licensed apparel and souvenirs. There are even official FC Cincinnati pub partners such as the House of Orange Sports Bar and Grill located on Johnson Street in Covington. FC Cincinnati federal trademarks are registered by Major League Soccer.

Innovative trademarks have always been vital to successfully identify the goods or services of a business. Once establishing a trademark, a new or established business should make certain there is no likelihood of confusion with other trademarks. Such potential likelihood of confusion is the most common reason for refusal of applications with the US Patent & Trademark Office. The USPTO determines that a likelihood of confusion occurs when (1) the marks are similar, and (2) the goods and/or services of the parties are related such that consumers would mistakenly believe they come from the same source.

PTRC logo (Patent & Trademark Resource Centers), one of over 80 helpful libraries, including Steely Library at NKU. Courtesy of the US Patent & Trademark Office.

Being aware of intellectual property places everyone on the leading edge of any innovative or creative endeavor, from inventors of technology to creators of art or music. NKU’s Intellectual Property Awareness Center (IPAC) at W. Frank Steely Library is available to assist everyone from inventors and entrepreneurs to educators and musicians.

The IPAC is partnering with the Northern Kentucky Chamber of Commerce to present, “Trademark Basics: What Your Small Business Should Know Now, Not Later.” Hear Craig Morris, Manager Attorney for Trademark Educational Outreach of the US Patent & Trademark Office, overview trademarks, copyrights, patents, and more.

Details about trademark selection, searching, and application is also planned. For more Trademark Basics workshop details, click here.

John Schlipp is an Intellectual Property Librarian and Professor of Library Science at W. Frank Steely Library at NKU. He is the manager of IPAC: Intellectual Property Awareness Center at Steely Library. The IPAC is a designated PTRC: Patent & Trademark Resource representing the US Patent & Trademark Office. The IPAC offers free assistance to everyone from inventors to musicians, to understand and utilize patents, trademarks, copyrights, and more. NOTE: The trademark images displayed in this article are for historical reference, news reporting, and educational purposes.

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