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Friday, 7 September, 2001, 16:35 GMT 17:35 UK
Dead brands tell no tales
Funky new logo...
In this modern world, branding is everything. But this week alone saw the end of Cellnet, Compaq and Line One. What becomes of the brands that no-one wants any more? BBC News Online's Chris Horrie investigates.

After spending hundreds of millions creating recognition for Cellnet, BT has abandoned the trademark, writing off the investment and buying a nice, new shiny trademark instead.

cellnet logo
Defuncty old logo

But what happens if, while walking past BT headquarters, you notice the redundant trademark lying in a skip or, perhaps, bundled up in a big plastic and left on the pavement for the bin men?

Are you entitled to scavenge the unwanted trademark, take it home and start using it - in the same way as you might make use of an abandoned filing cabinet or wonky swivel chair?

The short answer to this question is: "No".

Old brands don't die... they merely fade away

John Noble, British Brands Group
John Noble of the British Brands Group explains that most disused brand names remain the property of the original owner.

BT could sell the name - which would be the multi-million, intellectual property equivalent of getting a few quid back on an unwanted filing cabinet by selling it to one of those "reconditioned office equipment" (i.e: junk) shops.

But this is unlikely.

The best-known case of a company selling off a redundant and apparently defunct brand for scrap (as opposed to selling a successful one for huge profits) is that of Plymouth Gin - sold by Allied Domecq to John Murphy of InterBrand.

From the supermarket of ideas...
Lots of people laughed at Murphy when he walked away from the car-boot sale after paying good money for a rusty antique.

But within a year he had turned it into a stunning success - much to the embarrassment of Allied Domecq.

"A company will only sell off an old brand," says Noble, "if they think it does not pose a commercial threat in the hands of a rival.

"If I was in BT's shoes I wouldn't want another company using the Cellnet trademark and getting the value of the investment - basically giving away all that money."

... to the landfill of commerce
Graham Singleton of the branding experts The Value Engineers agrees.

"They would be mad not to protect a brand name like Cellnet. I cannot believe that they would leave themselves open to a competitor coming along and trading on the brand's reputation."

Most companies are therefore likely to dump their unwanted trademark garbage on the Patent Office's list of "inactive" trademarks - very much the commercial world's equivalent of a local authority waste-compacting and landfill site.

Trademarks are registered for ten years, after which they must be renewed. If they are not renewed the trademark lapses and anyone can use it.

Cluttered up

But, explains copyright expert Alan Poulter of InterBrand, it takes little effort to keep renewing a trademark: "we are talking about a few hundred pounds here to protect in some cases investments of many millions."

In theory a company could hang on to a trademark forever. But if the mark is not used for five years a rival has the right to complaint and demand that the name be made available.

Gone but not forgotten
Opal Fruits
"The idea is to stop the register of trademarks at the Patent Office getting cluttered up," explains Poulter.

Another issue is the owner's right to the value of the "goodwill in the name".

"If a competitor uses the name the owner can sue for 'passing off' - a common law action, the principle being that somebody else is benefiting from the reputation and investment made by your company.


"If somebody tried to use the Cellnet name BT as the owner would be able sue for breach of trademark, but they would almost certainly be able to sue for passing-off as well."

But these made a comeback...
VW Beetle
In the meantime if you are rummaging around the landfill of commercial concepts (located next door to your local Supermarket of Ideas) you will find such tempting cast-offs as Talbot Cars, Rawlings Lemonade, Banjo chocolate bars and Faithful pet food.

Leave them where they are. You can't touch them. They remain the property of their original owners - until they have been forgotten by everyone and rotted away to nothing.

The brands you miss...

I was surprised on a recent visit to Austria to find my friends smoking Players No.6! "It is a very popular and prestigious brand here", they told me
Robert Day, UK

(In answer to Les Murray:)
But they didn't do away with Pepsodent in the US - it's a budget brand, no ads, low price. I miss Impana toothpaste. Brusha-brusha-brusha, new Impana toothpaste ...
Tom Gillett, USA

Omo is alive and well in Europe.I think for all intents and purposes it is basically Persil!!
Jim, Netherlands

Gone and not missed could also include: Atari, Commodore, Sinclair ZX81/Spectrum (although I do miss my ole speccy), lots of dot.coms (hehe), and a fair few car manufacturers
Matt Windsor, UK

Can anyone remember HAUNTED HOUSE ice lollies..milky ice cream ..nice solid bite and monkey's blood...they were delish man!
Nipper Boyd, UK

I can call "Oil of Ulay" "Oil of Olay", am struggling with "Cif", but I'll never call my "Marathon" a "Snickers". Bring back the "Marathon"
Greg, UK

Not just British Caledonian but how about: British Overseas Airways Corporation, Air UK (now submerged into KLM uk), or car makes Austin Healey, Alvis, Triumph, Riley, Morris
David Rawsthorn, UK

Rabbit mobile phones, wonderful idea awful service
Jonathan, UK

What happened to "United" biscuits? They came in milk or orange and had honeycomb pieces in them.
Stuart Allison, UK

Amazin' Raisin Bar by Cadbury. As a child in the early 70s these were the closest thing to heaven I could imagine. Wish I could find out if they were as good as memory tells me!
Paul Thomson, Scotland

Whatever happened to: Spangles, square shaped sweeties from the 50's and 60's? Jubbly Orange Drinks in the triangular packages?
Neil Ashurst, uk

I really miss the washing powder brands of my childhood - Rinso, Omo, Tide and Surf
Jonquil Phelan, UK

The Texan bar - I owe all my fillings to the great tasting, peach coloured Texan bar. Why oh why did I steal from my mother's purse for such a poisoned challice? I never once managed to get a whole one in my mouth, but it's memory lingers on in my constantly sensitive teeth.
Sid, UK

British Caledonian, "I wish they all could be Caledonian girls", miss the uniforms. Sir Freddie Laker's Skytrain and not missed but Dan Air as well.
Marcus, England

Most people I know still insist on referring to a Snickers chocolate bar by its old name of Marathon. I think a lot of people would like to see the return of that name. It could in fact be a very successful marketing campaign if they were to bring it back.
Gina Snowdoll, UK

I wondered how the yellow went when they did away with Pepsodent?
Les Murray, England

I have not bought a single Snickers bar after they changed its name from Marathon. I don't suppose Mars care though!
Warren, UK

Do you have any fond memories of brands that have been culled? Let us know using the form below or by e-mailing them to

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See also:

03 Sep 01 | Business
BT unveils new mobile brand
09 Jul 01 | dot life
Brand-builders talk your language
28 Jan 00 | e-cyclopedia
Renaming: Sleight of brand?
10 Jul 01 | Business
Battle of the brands
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