Trade marks in the UK
A brief history of trade marks in the UK
The concept of trade marks is steeped through history with evidence dating back to Ancient Egypt where craftsman would stamp a unique design in their goods so customers could distinguish them from others.
In British law, trade marks have had a long history with many statute changes leading up to the 1994 Trade Marks Act we have today.
The first piece of legislation that concerned trade marks was the Merchandise Marks Act in 1862 which made it a criminal offence to copy another person’s trade mark for personal gain.
This definition was later changed in 1875 when the Trade Marks Registration Act created the system of formal registration for trade marks with records held at the UK Patent Office. This led to the first registered trade mark on January 1st 1876 which is owned by Bass Brewery. A Bass Beer employee waited outside the UK Patent Office overnight to register a red triangle as a trademark for Bass Beer Pale ale
The 1875 act also gave a new definition for a trade mark that has the capability of being registered which 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". This clearly has similarities to the current definition used today. The Act also pointed out however, that any trade mark in use before the enactment of the Act would still stand even if it did not meet the criteria.
The next significant Act in relation to trade marks was the Patents and Trade Marks Act 1883 which developed the law on further, letting brands be registered for the first time.
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 The last was superseded in 1994 when the most recent Act came into force.
The Trade Mark Act 1994 has been in force since 31st October 1994 and was enacted to implement the EU Trade Mark Directive 89/104 into UK law.
By Ellis Sweetenham
UK Trademark application