Perhaps not the ideal way to see in the new year, but rumour has it that one employee of Bass Brewery spent the cold New Year’s Eve of 1875 queuing outside the then Patent Office.

His reward? – securing the UK’s very first trade mark registration for the label used on his employer’s pale ale.  It seems that being the owner of Trade Mark Registration No. 1 wasn’t quite enough for Bass Brewery as it also obtained No. 2 on the Trade Marks Register – well deserved, after what must have been a very cold overnight wait.

Both of the Bass Brewery registrations (now held in the name of the Pioneer Brewing Company Limited) are for near identical trade marks; however, the form of the mark protected by virtue of trade mark registration no. 2 has the words “Pale Ale” removed and is registered in relation to “Burton ales, brown beers and stouts”.

A look at the early years of the trade marks register shows that food and drink companies made a good start in obtaining registered brand protection, clearly appreciating the value that such rights can bring.  Only ten of the trade mark registrations nos. 1 to 500 are still active but six of these are protected in relation to food and drink goods. 

BB&R Limited, better known as the upmarket wine merchant Berry Bros & Rudd, is the owner of Trade Mark Registrations Nos. 50 and 51 for its wine barrel logo and No. 52 for the word mark “The Coffee Mill”. There must have been quite a queue of people outside the Patent Office on the opening day for trade mark applications as these registrations also date from 1st January 1876.

The next oldest food and drink registration in the UK (Registration No. 201) is Brand & Co.’s Essence of Beef, now held in the name of the Premier Foods Group.  The registered mark appears to be for the label of the beef essence product itself, which gives interesting instructions for use “in cases of extreme exhaustion or urgent danger”.

If we go on to look at the first twenty-five years of the trade marks register, the UK’s food and drink industry continued to be strongly represented with approximately half of the registrations that were filed during this period, and currently still active, covering the food and drink goods classes.  

Focusing on the first five years of the register, an overwhelming proportion of registrations in the food and drinks classes are for alcoholic drinks. These include registrations for the trade marks of Guinness, Tennent’s ale and Hennessy cognac.

So, what about some of our best loved food brands?  The chocolate brands CADBURY and FRY (famous for its chocolate cream and now in fact owned by Cadbury), as well more savoury food brands HOVIS and BISTO, were all registered as plain word marks before the turn of the 20th century.  

McVitie’s (then known as McVitie & Price) registered what appears to be the product label for its digestive biscuits as a trade mark in 1908.

LYLE’S, as in Lyle’s Golden Syrup, has been a registered word mark in the UK since 1907, with an image of the product label being registered as a trade mark five years later. Apparently, neither the design of the golden syrup tin nor the recipe has changed since it was first introduced in 1883 (except during World War II when the tins had to be made of cardboard because of a shortage of tin)!

The oldest registration that’s still being maintained for Quality Street appears to be the plain word mark registration QUALITY STREET dating from 1952.  Notably, this mark is registered in relation to “medicated confectionary” so we can all feel less guilty about that box of Quality Street that was polished off at Christmas.

It seems that some food and drinks companies are maintaining registrations for old logos that have now been updated.  Being able to refer to older registrations can be beneficial when enforcing a registration against a third party or establishing long term rights in a mark. Alternatively, older marks may simply be renewed in order to retain a slice of history on the trade marks register.

Some of the older registrations also appear to contain the words “trade mark” in the registered marks themselves, for example in the Guinness and Tennent’s marks.  It appears that this may have been the precursor to the modern practice of adding the subscript TM or ® next to a trade mark. 

In summary, it’s clear that the UK’s strong food and drink industry has long been aware of the importance of registered trade mark protection.  

Industry players have sought to protect their company names and logos, as well as those of particular product offerings, since the UK trade mark registration system came into existence.

Consumers can show strong brand loyalty when it comes to food and drink and quite rightly like to know where the food and drink products that they are putting into their mouths originate from.  A trade mark is the best way to indicate origin.  

Today, trade mark registration continues to be vital, particularly in view of the increased number of lookalike products vying for consumers’ attention on supermarket shelves.