October 4

A brief history of brands: from Antiquity to the present day


Brief history of brands (1): from Antiquity to the present day


Brands are not a creation of modern society. They existed long before the appearance of the first trademark and patent offices. And they already fulfilled their function of identification, making it possible to distinguish products from those of competitors. A look back at the exciting history of trademarks.


The emergence of trademark law


The trademark as a distinctive sign

From AntiquityIn the case in point, the merchants placed distinctive signs on their products to distinguish them from those of their competitors. Amphoras thus had specific markings on them, making it possible to identify their origin. Similarly, the use of hallmarks on the products themselves offered the opportunity for a seller to build customer loyalty.

But it was not until the Middle Ages that the question of trademarks became legal. It is believed that the first legislative act in trademark law was passed during the reign of King Henry III of England in 1266. This act obliged bakers to use a distinctive sign to mark their bread.

The brand as a symbol of quality

Similarly, artisans, then grouped into corporations, were required to mark their products with the sign of their organization. This not only helped to identify the manufacturer but also served to assess the quality of the given products. Attempts to "counterfeit" were also severely punished, including through corporal punishment.

The Middle Ages thus allowed the development of industrial property. An Italian jurist, Bartolo da Sassoferrato (1314-1357), is also said to have written the first treatise on trademark law (Of insigniis and armis). In this text, he raises several questions, some of which are still relevant today.


The evolution of trademark law


The abolition of privileges

The end of the Middle Ages saw the emergence of privileges. These exclusive rights of use - the forerunners of our licensing agreements - were granted in return for the payment of large sums of money. Since this monopoly system was highly unequal, because it was reserved for the wealthiest, the Revolutionaries pronounced the end of privileges on the famous night of August 4, 1789.

The proclamation of the freedom of trade and industry (Allarde's decree of 1791) was to revive competition between traders. In order to make themselves known to the public, they will start again to mark their products with distinctive signs. The legislator even went so far as to adopt a legal system to protect craftsmen. Thus, the law of 25 Germinal de l'An XI (15 April 1803) provides for criminal penalties of imprisonment for counterfeiters.

However, even though copyright and patents were truly protected as early as 1791, it was not until the 19th century that the first law devoted to trademark law appeared.

The 19th century or the creation of a true trademark law

The increase in foreign trade, the industrial revolution and the development of the media are the factors that made it necessary to adopt the law of 23 June 1857, devoted to trademarks. This law, which remained in force until 1964, created a genuine trademark protection system. According to the text, the right to a trademark is acquired by first use. However, in order to be able to oppose the trademark against third parties, registration is necessary.

The first international treaties were added to national law: the Paris Convention of Union (CUP) in 1883, supplemented by the Madrid Agreement in 1891, instituted the international trademark system.

As for the Patent and Trademark Office (which would become the INPI), it was created in 1900.

The 20th century and the European influence on trademark law

It is the law of 31 December 1964 which established the principle of acquisition of rights through deposit and registration. This principle is still in force today. The Law of 1964 also establishes the obligation to use the trademark. If it is not used, the trademark is liable to lapse.

A new reform was introduced by the law of January 4, 1991, transposing the first European directive on trademarks (December 21, 1988). This directive aimed at harmonizing the legislations of the Member States then led to the creation of the Community trademark (today "European Union trade mark") in 1996. This supranational trademark is the result of a compromise between the principle of the free movement of goods and the need to protect industrial property rights.


Brands have been around since ancient times. They have undergone many changes throughout history. For example, although Europe has agreed on a system of protection on registration, other countries (such as the United States) still place use as an essential requirement. But it is interesting to note that despite these differences, and in all eras, trademarks have always fulfilled a function of identification and guarantee.


history, INPI, European brand

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