As promised earlier this week, in my post entitled “Without Words, But Not Speechless: More On Non-Verbal Logos That Can Stand Alone,” here is my effort to identify, from a legal perspective, some of the pros and cons of non-verbal logos and other trademark styles.
But, before addressing the legal implications, it is worth noting that a number of our insightful readers and commenters already have helped articulate a variety of pros and cons from a business and marketing perspective, here. By my count, there appears to be consensus on at least two important points: (1) Having an iconic stand-alone non-verbal logo or wordless trademark symbol is highly desirable, especially for truly international brands; but (2) be prepared to spend a lot of time, effort, and significant resources to achieve one.
In addition, at least one designer has written that having a logo without words “can be a big branding pain,” for a variety of reasons. She identifies three basic logo styles: (1) Text logos; (2) symbol logos; and (3) combination logos. Examples of text logos would be the Coca-Cola script, the Yahoo! stylized word, and the Google stylized word, all three illustrated in my earlier post. The highly stylized Ebay logo is another good example of a text logo. On the other hand, the Shell logo, McDonald’s Golden Arches, and the Nike Swoosh, are all good examples of symbol logos. In addition, here is a message board collecting a number of other possible candidates for symbol logos that are capable of standing lone — without words — yet, they still have a lot to say to consumers. Many of them, in fact, were mentioned by commenters to my prior post.
Anyway, the designer referenced above contends that for a variety of reasons, combination logos often make the most sense. According to her, a combination logo “combines both a symbol and the company name. The symbol and text can be integrated together, side by side, or with one located above the other.”
Generally, from a trademark owner and legal perspective, I prefer the combination logo too, but not the “integrated” type, instead the “side by side” type or the “one above the other” type. The Mercedes-Benz combination logo shown below nicely illustrates the “one above the other” type of combination logo:
Why do I generally prefer this type of trademark logo format and style?
Well, in general, this format and style is more flexible, easier to clear for adoption and use, easier to register and protect each element separately, and easier to enforce rights in both verbal and non-verbal elements.
With respect to enhanced flexibility, a trademark owner can elect to always use the verbal and non-verbal elements together, perhaps as a way of reducing the risk of infringing on another’s prior rights in a mark perhaps similar to either the verbal or non-verbal element, or as Jack Cuffari commented, the combination logo is the “best-case scenario” because it is possible to “wean the symbol away from the name once research has proven that the target audience gets the connection, so that the symbol can be used alone, or in conjunction with the brand name.”
Indeed, few symbol logos spring into existence without a history of having been used side by side with the underlying brand name, so, the symbol adopted by the “Artist Formerly Known as Prince” is probably the best exception to this general rule:
With respect to ease of clearance, it is generally less of a challenge to clear physically separable combination logos over text logos or integrated combination logos, since the Mercedes-Benz verbal portion involves a straightforward word search, and the corresponding three-point star within a circle symbol involves a straightforward design search. In fact, it is often more difficult to obtain a comprehensive and reliable trademark search report for a proposed text logo or an integrated combination logo as compared to a symbol logo or a physically separable combination logo. Because of design coding challenges, it is easier for a trademark searcher to locate prior marks of potential concern when one’s proposed logo comprises a stylized star or shell design than a text logo that may be unknowingly or unintentionally similar, not to the word, but to the color combination and lettering style employed by, say, Coca-Cola, Yahoo!, Google, or Ebay:
For more information on the importance of trademark clearance, see my previous post entitled “Look Before You Leap! The Dangers of Not Clearing Brands Before First Use.”
With respect to ease of registration, if the brand name is physically integrated and part of or even touching the non-verbal design elements, in many cases, the non-verbal design elements cannot be separately registered as a trademark. To register the non-verbal design elements of an integrated combination logo, it must be shown that those non-verbal elements actually perform a trademark function to indicate source separate and apart from the verbal element. This can be difficult to establish if the verbal element is always present within the design. On the other hand, the Trademark Office views a non-integrated combination logo as comprising at least three different marks, each of which may be registered alone: (1) The word or words; (2) the non-verbal symbol; and (3) the combination of verbal and non-verbal elements. By being able to register each element separately at the outset, even during a time when they are always used together, it facilitates the trademark owner’s ability to eventually “wean the symbol away from the name” with added confidence.
For more information on the importance and benefits of federal registration, see my previous post entitled “The Power of Federal Trademark Registration Remains Strong in Tough Economic Times.”
With respect to ease of enforcement, assuming each element of a physically separable combination logo has been registered, enforcement is enhanced too, for the reasons already stated above. Having each element registered separately, eventhough they may only be used together, permits the Trademark Office to refuse registration of later marks that are confusingly similar to either the verbal or non-verbal element. In the event the Trademark Office doesn’t see a conflict for some unexplained reason, the non-integrated combination logo format also enhances the trademark owner’s ability to challenge registration of another’s mark that may not be confusingly similar to the combined elements, but to one of them.