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Trademarks Past and Present

March 2005

The use of trademarks dates back thousands of years. The first marks – the branding of livestock depicted in Stone Age cave paintings – identified personal property to prevent theft. Egyptian masonry from some six thousand years ago shows quarry marks and stonecutters signs, which named the source of the stone and the laborer who carried out the work. The practice of marking goods with a graphic design to certify its origin and quality spread throughout the ancient world as the scale of commerce increased and goods became more sophisticated.  Some of the marks used by trade guilds in the middle ages – such as the hallmark for gold purity – are still in use today although the guilds no longer exist.

Over the years these marks evolved into today’s system of trademark registration and protection. The earliest trademark legislation was the Bakers’ Marking Law, obliging every baker to put his mark on the bread he baked, enacted by the British Parliament in 1266. Merchants’ marks - personal marks used from the 13th to 16th century -could be considered the predecessors of modern trademarks in that they bore names of traders and served as a guarantee that the goods sold were of the expected quality.

The two items below, written by Mr. Patrick J. Gallagher of Fulbright & Jaworski L.L.P (Minneapolis, Minnesota) for the International Trademark Association (INTA) Bulletin, trace the story behind two successful modern trademarks: Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA, and Australian swimwear, SPEEDO.



From a very early age, Ingvar Kamprad showed great promise as an entrepreneur. He began selling matches to neighbors from his bicycle in his southern Swedish village. After successfully completing his studies at 17, his father gave Kamprad a gift that he used to establish a business selling pens, wallets, picture frames, table runners, watches, jewelry and nylon stockings.  He named his company "IKEA" – IK for the initials of his first and last names, E for Elmtaryd, the farm where he grew up, and A for Agunnaryd, the village where he grew up.

In 1947, IKEA began selling furniture manufactured locally from the forests close to his home. Swedish consumers responded positively to the furniture, and in 1951 IKEA published its first furniture catalog. Soon after, Kamprad made the decision to discontinue the sale of all other products.

In 1953, IKEA opened its first showroom in Älmhult, Sweden. The showroom was important to IKEA's success and growth because it was the first time customers could touch IKEA's furnishings before ordering them. Also important to IKEA's success was a supplier boycott, because it resulted in IKEA's decision to design and manufacture its own furniture.

In the 1960s, IKEA expanded outside Sweden by opening stores in Norway and Denmark. In the 1970s and 80s, IKEA opened stores in several European countries, including Switzerland, Germany, Australia, France, the Netherlands and Belgium, and in countries outside Europe, such as the United States, Canada, Singapore, Saudi Arabia and Australia. IKEA's expansion continued in the 1990s to China, Poland, the Czech Republic and the United Arab Emirates. Throughout those decades, IKEA continued to design and manufacture innovative and award-winning home furnishings. Today, IKEA has more than 190 stores in more than 30 countries on four continents. – INTA Bulletin Vol. 59, No. 13

The company owns over 1200 registrations for IKEA and IKEA variants in more than 70 countries around the world, including some filed under the Madrid System.

From Knitting to SPEEDO

In 1928, the company responsible for the legendary Speedo swimwear brand was founded on Bondi Beach in Sydney, Australia. The company, originally known as MacRae Knitting Mills and also called "The Great Aussie Cossie," was able to build on Australia's active beach lifestyle and the growing acceptance of swimming as a competitive sport.

MacRae Knitting Mills began by producing a racer-back swimming "costume" for men and women. The original marketing slogan was "Speed on in your SPEEDOs." The phrase was so popular that the company's name was permanently changed to Speedo. Inspired by its owner's country of origin, the SPEEDO logo is called the "boomerang" and has become an Australian sporting icon.

In 1932, Swede Ame Borg became the first swimmer to earn an Olympic gold medal wearing a SPEEDO swimsuit. SPEEDO swimsuits made even a bigger splash in 1956 when the Australian team, led by legends John Devitt and Dawn Fraser, dominated the Melbourne Olympics. In fact, the team won so many medals that other nations joked that there must have been motors in the SPEEDO swimsuits. To date, more Olympic gold medals have been won in SPEEDO apparel than any other apparel brand.

Speedo has always been willing to experiment with product development. In the early days, Speedo was the force behind the swimwear industry's move from wool to silk to cotton to even mosquito netting. Since the 1930s, Speedo designers actively sought feedback from athletes and thus have pushed swimwear garment engineering to new heights. – INTA Bulletin Vol. 58, No. 15

Today, the credibility of the brand continues to be underpinned by technology, design and innovation. Four years of research on how water travels over the over the body led Speedo to create the Fastskin FS11 swimsuit, which acts in a way similar to shark skin to reduce friction in water. Michael Phelps broke five world records in the ‘shark’ swimsuit at the 2003 Barcelona FINA* World Championship, and won gold at the 2004 summer Olympics in Athens.

In 2004 Speedo signed an exclusive four-year sponsorship agreement with FINA. Speedo branding will appear in the official printed material of each event, and Speedo will work with FINA on global marketing campaigns.

Speedo Holdings Company in the Netherlands first registered its international trademarks under the Madrid System in November 1989.  There are now some 50 SPEEDO marks in the International Register.

High Impact Brands of 2004
The trade magazine Brandchannel has published the results of a survey aimed at determining which brand names had the most influence worldwide in 2004. Topping the list in the global category was Apple, displacing the 2003 winner, Internet search engine Google, to second place. Swedish furniture retailer, IKEA, took third place, followed by the U.S. coffee-shop chain Starbucks Coffee. More unexpected was the appearance – for the first time in Brandchannel’s annual reader survey – of the Qatar-based news channel, Al-Jazeera, voted the fifth most influential brand of 2004.


Close to 2000 readers (most associated with marketing or advertising activities) in 75 countries voted in the poll, which also had regional categories. Japan’s Sony topped the Asia-Pacific category, while Mexican cement giant Cemex headed the list for Latin America


The WIPO Magazine is intended to help broaden public understanding of intellectual property and of WIPO’s work, and is not an official document of WIPO. The designations employed and the presentation of material throughout this publication do not imply the expression of any opinion whatsoever on the part of WIPO concerning the legal status of any country, territory or area or of its authorities, or concerning the delimitation of its frontiers or boundaries. This publication is not intended to reflect the views of the Member States or the WIPO Secretariat. The mention of specific companies or products of manufacturers does not imply that they are endorsed or recommended by WIPO in preference to others of a similar nature that are not mentioned.