The summertime speculation that
HSBC may bring back the Midland Bank brand raises some interesting commercial and legal questions about reviving brands from a bygone era. Whilst modern culture’s penchant for referencing the past seems unrelenting in industries such as fashion (e.g.
Sainsbury’s deal with Admiral Sportswear), it is questionable whether brand equity in other sectors remains so unwavering. The desire for genuine vintage or vintage-replica pieces may be understandable when it comes to tangible products, but applying the same logic to the service sector is not so sure-fire, where words such as “inefficient” and “outdated” may be more readily called to mind. Similarly, from a PR and brand loyalty perspective it cannot be assumed that a brand is positive because it has heritage, with the reason for a brand’s disappearance or publicised revival unlikely to escape consumers’ attention. Assuming that the reasoning for bringing back the brand is sound, questions may still remain over the health of the brand’s IP portfolio. A few examples include: whether the brand has been used recently enough to retain trading goodwill? Have the trade mark registrations been renewed throughout the dormant period? Are the trade marks owned by the correct entity? And are there any practical issues caused by intervening third party use / registrations that may affect the brand’s ability to work across the desired goods/services, for example, honest commercial third party use on content drivers such as apps? The temptation to dust off an old brand from the shelf is an understandable one. However, care must be taken to ensure that it is being done for the right reasons and, just like with any new brand, that it is legally safe to proceed. Brand owners are strongly advised to undertake due diligence checks, including contemporary trade mark clearance searches, before embarking on going back to the future.
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