The Cell C rebranding has sparked a furious debate about the merits of the new logo as well as Cell C’s campaign involving Trevor Noah. In critiquing the new logo a number of people, myself included for some inexplicable reason, confused the significance of the ™ symbol with the ® symbol and have referred to the Cell C logo as being a registered trade mark. This is not accurate and this was borne out by news that the Cell C logo’s registration has been provisionally refused.
It is worth exploring what a trade mark is and what the distinction is between these two symbols. A trade mark is a mark used in relation to goods or services which distinguishes those goods and services from those sold or rendered by any other person. This is one of the reasons why a trade mark that is confusingly similar to another trade mark is often a trade mark infringement. Trade marks need to be distinctive to be effective although trade marks are also registered in different classes. This could mean that the same or a similar trade mark can be used for goods or services in very different industries or classifications.
Trade marks need not be registered and this is where the confusion came in with this story. The ™ symbol indicates that a particular mark is being used as a trade mark. It doesn’t mean that the trade mark has the protections afforded to registered trade marks which use the symbol ® to indicate registration.
What Cell C is doing is using an unregistered trade mark pending its application to register its trade mark. If registered, it will likely then apply the ® symbol to its logo. Cell C still faces a number of challenges to its trade mark’s registration including the grounds I mentioned in my previous post as well as provisions of the Trade Mark Regulations which specifically refer to the use of the © symbol as a basis of refusal of the application.
It isn’t surprising that Cell C is fighting for its new branding. It has reportedly spent a fortune rebranding its stores and, in all likelihood, paying its designers and lawyers too. It is a substantial investment which can’t simply be discarded and while its logo design choice may be questionable, it seems to be stuck with it for now unless its registration is rejected completely. In that case Cell C will have to decide whether to use its new trade mark as an unregistered trade mark and make the most of its investment or change its branding and try again.