From the legal point of view, geographical names don’t make ideal brands. Most trademark laws specifically exclude such names from protection. Everyone in a city has a justifiable interest in using the city’s name to tell the world where their products or services are produced.
So it’s easy to see that building a brand based on a place name can be a tough challenge. Nevertheless, many are willing to try and, as the owner of the trademark “London 2012”, the London Organising Committee of the Olympic and Paralympic Games (LOCOG) serves as a prime example of how to successfully protect a brand that incorporates a place name.
LOCOG also makes proactive use of its incorporeal rights by licensing the “London 2012” brand logo to other interested parties. This gives a clearer commercial significance to the value of London as a geographical location, which can in turn lead to subsequent corporate establishments and economic growth.
But registering and protecting a city’s or region’s name is not enough to attract worldwide recognition. As place development expert Christer Asplund explains in the lead article of AWAinformation 1-2012, you also have to invest in brand-building. To be seen and heard amid today’s fierce competition, a city’s brand must be filled with basic values, credible content and a successfully communicated message. Establishing that message takes patience and perseverance. Only when you yourself have grown tired of hearing what you’re saying do others in your surroundings start listening. This means that the process is often a long one.
How well a city succeeds in its branding ambitions depends, of course, on a huge range of factors, but a quick review of the Community Trademark Register gives some insights into the appeal of European cities as brands. Paris returns no less than 832 hits. Close on its heels is this year’s Olympic host city, London, with 710 hits. But Stockholm lags far behind with just 52 hits, and Helsinki has a mere 14. So, how well established as a brand is your home town?
Kristina Fredlund, European Trademark Attorney