The long road to today’s trade marks: UK trade mark history

The 1994 Act has been in force for exactly 23 years today- but do you know the history of trade marks before the system as we know it was put in place.

While trade marks as a concept have been intertwined in civilisation for quite some time, with traders and merchants using unique symbols to indicate their products separate from their competitors, it has only between in the last 200 years that clear rules and guidance has been given.

There are a number of key pieces of legislation that carved out exactly what trade marks are today.

Merchandise Marks Act 1862- this was the first Act of Parliament that specifically made copying another person’s merchant mark for personal gain a criminal offence.

Trade Marks Registration Act 1875- created a system of formal registration for trade marks with the records held at the UK Patent Office.

The 1875 act also changed the definition of a trade mark. The new definition was “a device, or mark, or name of an individual or firm printed in some particular and distinctive manner; or a written signature or copy of a written signature of an individual or firm; or a distinctive label or ticket”

Following the creation of the formal registration system, January 1st 1876- the first trade mark was registered by Bass Brewery. The red triangle registered for their Bass Beer Pale ale is widely recognised as the first registered UK trademark.

Patents and Trade Marks Act 1883-  This act again revived trade mark law by reducing application cost and expanding the scope allowing ‘fancy words not in common use’ to be registered.

Further law changes were introduced in 1888, 1905, 1919 and 1938 that redefined trade marks a number of times. The last was superseded in 1994 when the most recent Act came into force.

Trade Marks Act 1994- this is the latest act and the current law in the UK on the subject of trade marks. It has been in force since the 31st October 1994 and was developed to implement the EU Trade Mark Directive 89/104 into the UK legal system. Trade mark law in the UK, following the 1994 act, has remained unchanged with no scope for redevelopment in the near future therefore indicating its level of detail and success.

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