The Learning Curve

New tricks for an old dog.

Branding is what you do to cattle – part 3

As exemplified by Wikipedia, popular wisdom has it that “the essential function of a trademark is to exclusively identify the commercial source or origin of products or services.” Turning to the United States Code, title 15, section 1127, one can understand where this mistaken idea comes from:

“The term ‘trademark’ includes any word, name, symbol, or device [used by a person or corporation] to identify and distinguish his or her goods, including a unique product, from those manufactured or sold by others and to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown.”

The phrase, “to indicate the source of the goods, even if that source is unknown,” is an interesting bit of linguistic sleight-of-hand that roughly translates into: A trademark is not particularly useful for determining the source of goods. This is how it works in actual practice, using Pillsbury brand packaged cake mix as an example.

The flour company that was started by C. A. Pillsbury in 1872 was subject to a hostile takeover in 1989, following which all its manufacturing and distribution facilities were sold off. The Pillsbury Company continued only as a marketing company until 2000 when it was merged out of existence into General Mills. Today, the Pillsbury brand for flour and other dry packaged baking products, opposed to refrigerated or frozen baking products, is licensed to the J. M. Smucker company, which contracts the manufacture of those products to third parties.

A box of Pillsbury brand cake mix has nothing to do with the Pillsbury Company, which no longer exists, and it is not very easy (at least for me) to discover by whom or exactly where the stuff is manufactured.

If you have a hankering to start an airline, you want instant name recognition, and the name Pan American World Airways strikes your fancy, cut a deal with the Tomlinson Corporation of Honolulu, Hawaii. According to the U. S. Patent and Trademark Office, Tomlinson is the current owner of that trademark. It is using the brand to print on t-shirts for sale to tourists.

Related posts:

Branding is what you do to cattle – part 1

Branding is what you do to cattle – part 2

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Written by Tom Fox

05/25/2007 at 6:48 am

Posted in Branding, Trademark

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