Who owns a coat of arms? (& can Donald Trump copy them)
The issues surrounding Donald Trump's alleged coat of arms are not new but this interesting quirk of IP law and UK pageantry received more attention after Trump became president of the United States.
So what's the problem?
The family which built Mar-a-Lago (a Florida estate now owned by Donald Trump) used their family coat of arms throughout the resort. The coat of arms was granted in 1939 to a British diplomat, Joseph Edward Davies.
When Trump bought Mar-a-Lago he appropriated and commercialised the coat of arms which is now used on a range of products and merchandise from golf carts to socks. However, he made one important change, he removed the latin motto, INTEGRITAS (i.e. Integrity) and replaced it with his name, TRUMP. None of this was done with the Davies family's knowledge or permission.
According to the New York Times, Davies' heirs considered suing but decided it was significantly more trouble than it was worth.
Misuse of a coat of arms
Whilst it may not have been worth taking action in the USA, the situation was slightly different in the UK which had granted the coat of arms in the first place.
This raises two related issues: use of the coat of arms and whether the coat of arms could be registered as a trade mark in the UK.
Use of the coat of arms
Trump attempted to use the coat of arms on his Aberdeen golf course. However, he had not registered the arms or sought approval from the College of Arms or Lord Lyon (the Scottish equivalent) who objected to the Trump coat of arms being used in the UK on the basis that it had been lifted from an existing coat of arms.
According to the New York Times' interviewee, John Petrie, Rouge Croix Pursuivant of Arms at the college: "There needs to be at least two lineal differences from something that's been granted in the past." As far as the College of Arms is concerned, the motto, which was changed by the Trump organisation, does not form part of the design. This meant that the two arms were essentially identical.
The College of Arms dates back to 1484 when it was founded by King Richard III (who was recently rediscovered in a Leicester car park).
Trade mark registration
The prohibition on using someone else's coat of arms in a mark comes from Section 4(4) of the Trade Marks Act 1994 and Rule 10 of the Trade Mark Rules 2008.
Rule 10 simply states that: Where having regard to matters coming to the notice of the registrar it appears to the registrar that a representation of any arms or insignia as is referred to in section 4(4) appears in a mark, the registrar shall refuse to accept an application for the registration of the mark unless satisfied that the consent of the person entitled to the arms has been obtained.
If you have an earlier right, the College of Arms or Lord Lyon are notified but the opposition period will run in the usual way. So if you happen to have a coat of arms, it is your responsibility to monitor the UK register.
Thanks to the New York Times for sharing these facts.