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A mark of distinction: Branding and trade mark law in the UK from the 1860s


  • John Mercer


The development of branding is a neglected theme in business history. This article examines the emergence on a large scale of the unique product brand name - distinct from a company name or product descriptor - in the UK in the later nineteenth century. It looks at the interaction of branding strategies and UK trade mark law, which is shown to have accorded property rights in word-based marks only gradually and shaped the development of branding in the UK. Trademark application data from the 1870s to the 1920s is cited to illustrate the widespread take-up of the brand name in the UK from the 1880s, and to consider its use by different types of consumer goods firms. The article then analyses the effects of such branding into the twentieth century, including its contribution to competitive advantage, the introduction of brand architecture, and the problem of brand genericisation. It is argued that the adoption of the brand name marked a major shift in brands, from descriptions of origin to objects of artifice.

Suggested Citation

  • John Mercer, 2010. "A mark of distinction: Branding and trade mark law in the UK from the 1860s," Business History, Taylor & Francis Journals, vol. 52(1), pages 17-42.
  • Handle: RePEc:taf:bushst:v:52:y:2010:i:1:p:17-42 DOI: 10.1080/00076790903281033

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jacobsen, Siv Fagerland & Tschoegl, Adrian E, 1999. "The Norwegian Banks in the Nordic Consortia: A Case of International Strategic Alliances in Banking," Industrial and Corporate Change, Oxford University Press, vol. 8(1), pages 137-165, March.
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    4. Ball, Clifford A. & Tschoegl, Adrian E., 1982. "The Decision to Establish a Foreign Bank Branch or Subsidiary: An Application of Binary Classification Procedures," Journal of Financial and Quantitative Analysis, Cambridge University Press, vol. 17(03), pages 411-424, September.
    5. Heinkel, Robert L. & Levi, Maurice D., 1992. "The structure of international banking," Journal of International Money and Finance, Elsevier, vol. 11(3), pages 251-272, June.
    6. Edward Brown Flowers, 1976. "Oligopolistic Reactions in European and Canadian Direct Investment in the United States," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 7(2), pages 43-56, June.
    7. Chwo-Ming J Yu & Kiyohiko Ito, 1988. "Oligopolistic Reaction and Foreign Direct Investment: The Case of the U.S. Tire and Textiles Industries," Journal of International Business Studies, Palgrave Macmillan;Academy of International Business, vol. 19(3), pages 449-460, September.
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