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Saturday, June 11, 2011

Official Signs and Emblems

Jane Lambert over at the NIPC Law Blog has an interesting post regarding the rejection of an attempted registration of a heraldic mark by a descendant of the House of Hanover.  Included is a nice overview of the origins of the House of Windsor:

Before I go into the facts of the case it is worth reading the Wikipedia articles on the House of Hanover and theHouse of Windsor for some background. It will be seen that the link with Hanover was broken when Queen Victoria acceded to the throne. The royal family changed its name from Saxe-Coburg and Gotha to Windsor at height of the First World War - just about the time of the Bolshevik revolution in Russia. The current head of the House of Hanover is Ernst August V, Prince of Hanover, the third husband of Princess Caroline of Monaco.
The mark that Monsieur August attempted to register looked like this:


Unfortunately, he ran afoul of Article 6ter of the Paris Convention, which protects:
armorial bearings, flags, and other State emblems, of the countries of the Union, official signs and hallmarks indicating control and warranty adopted by them, and any imitation from a heraldic point of view.
 Now this is interesting.  Armorial bearings and other heraldic emblems have been around for hundreds of years, and have likely changed appearance and/or ownership many times in the course of their history.  Article 6ter accounts for this by providing some exceptions to the blanket prohibition against registering such emblems as trademarks, but the vast history of these emblems seems to insure that some inadvertent registration attempts will be made.  I will, absent contrary evidence, assume that Monsieur August intentionally looked to register this mark since it was his family's ancestral coat of arms.

How does one avoid this problem?  Similar to conventional trademark registration, WIPO provides a searchable database of (at the time of this writing) 2831 documents detailing protected emblems.  Of those 2831 documents, the United Kingdom has 47 entries and the United States of America has 117, including the seals of each state.  WIPO publishes a quarterly circular of new additions to the list.  The most recent circular, published March 31, 2011 can be accessed here.  So, the next time you are looking to become the next Versace, it may behoove you to check these emblems and hallmarks first!  

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