Insights from Williams + Hughes
Trade marks and graphic design: the bear trap of industry themes
Post by Williams + Hughes | Posted 4 years ago on Friday, August 4th, 2017

One consideration for graphic designers upon receipt of a brief to design a new brand identity is to mitigate the risk of confusion between a client’s brand and competitors’ brands.

There is a tension between this, and rendering a logo so that it looks like it falls into a particular category of goods and services.

But how problematic is this? Below are some logos, all from the financial services sector:

(Source: Per Mollerup, Marks of Excellence, Phaidon Books, 1997)

This series of logos starts to look like an marketing communications expression of corporate kinship: variations of a logo to denote different services or operational divisions of the same entity.

But, running from left to right by row, these logos are each owned by competitors:

a. Chase Manhattan, USA

b. Jyske Bank, Denmark

c. Bankers Trust, USA

d. Development Cooperative Bank, India

e. National West Minister Bank, UK

f. Sao Paolo Development Bank, Brazil

g. Dresdner Bank, Germany

h. Senbank, South Korea

Since 1997, things have not changed much:

a. – a logo filed by White & Partners, Australia, on 2 December 2016

b. – a logo filed by Bank of Queensland, Australia, on 10 June 2014

c. – a logo filed by American Express Marketing and Development Corp., USA, on 9 September 2010

d. – the logo of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc, filed 20 20 July 2012

e. – the logo filed by Loan Market Group Pty Ltd, Australia, on 14 May 2014.

(“Filed” in this instance means filed with the Australian Trade Mark Registry.)

The brand consultant’s brief might be to create a logo which looks like it would fit in with notable peers. But, in addition to being lost in the fog of competing brands, this approach also creates a real risk of confusion, particularly amongst consumers who might rely upon the logo only (an issue particular to markets or jurisdictions where Latin characters are not so familiar to consumers). Mitigating the risk of a trade mark dispute between brand owners over similar logos should be a proper consideration for a graphic designer.


This article is general information only, at the date it is posted.  It is not, and should not be relied upon as, legal advice.  This article might not be updated over time and therefore may not reflect changes to the law.  Please feel free to contact us for legal advice that is specific to your situation.

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