written by: William Busse•edited by: Ronda Bowen•updated: 1/2/2011
The Coca-Cola logo is one the most widely recognized trademarks in the world. By vigorously protecting its intellectual property, Coca-Cola has been able to build a soft drink empire. This article explores Coke trademark history and how it used this legal protection to achieve unimaginable success
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A Universally Recognized Product
As one of the most recognized products in the world, “Coca-Cola" has been a part of the national and global culture for well over a century. The success of the Coca-Cola brand is largely dependant on an intricate integration of legal protections including patents, copyrights and trade secrets. However, nothing the company owns is more zealously protected than the Coca-Cola trademark itself, which is estimated to have a value of over seventy billion dollars. As a result, Coke trademark history is extensive as the company aggressively guards this critical asset.
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Origins of the Product and the Logo
Coca-Cola was originally developed on May 8, 1886 by Dr John Pemberton, a local pharmacist in Atlanta, Georgia. The original beverage was a kind of syrup that was sold as a fountain drink for five cents a glass. Soon thereafter carbonated water was added to create the familiar taste that was termed, “Delicious and Refreshing," a phrase that continues to be used in modern advertising.
The actual Coca-Cola logo was designed by Pemberton’s bookkeeper and partner, Frank Robinson, whose unique script resulted in the distinctive flowing ribbons that emanate from each capital “C."
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Trademarks and Patents
Due to poor health, Pemberton sold the company to Asa Chandler through several different transactions for a cumulative price of $2300. By 1892, Chandler had increased the sales of Coca-Cola syrup substantially, and ultimately the Coca-Cola Company was incorporated with an initial capitalization of $100,000.
Recognizing the need for protection from competitors producing imitation products, the words and logo, “Coca-Cola" were both trademarked by Chandler in 1893. The trademark included the uniquely styled script of the logo as well. Despite the legal steps taken to protect the integrity of the brand, Coca Cola continued to suffer from persistent attempts to duplicate the drink, especially as sales began to grow at an increasingly rapid pace.
Advertising campaigns that reminded customers to, “Demand the Genuine" and “Accept no Substitutes" were only marginally successful. As a result, the distinctive body shape of the Coca-Cola bottle was developed and patented in 1915. Interestingly, the bottle design itself was granted a trademark in 1977 and serves as a legal precedent for case law involving trademark packaging and a milestone in Coke trademark history.
As the drink continued to grow in popularity, modern culture began to exert its influence. The term “Coke" was beginning to be used more frequently by younger customers when referring to the product. As a result, the company was granted a trademark for the name “Coke" in 1945.
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Protecting the Coca-Cola Trademark
It is widely recognized that the intrinsic value of Coca-Cola rests largely with its trademarks and the formula itself. Nevertheless, the patent for the original recipe was not renewed after some ingredients were changed early in its development. This decision was based on the knowledge that the expiration of the patent would allow competitors to create nearly identical products.
Instead, access to the formula is tightly controlled and known only to a select few key executives. Non disclosure agreements with enormous punitive consequences are always part of any employment agreement that includes knowledge of the recipe. With these tight legal restraints, Coca-Cola has successfully maintained control of its product base.
The Coca-Cola Company employs an enormous legal staff whose primary function is to protect the integrity of the brand names, logos, trademarks and intellectual property. Coca-Cola has trademark lawyers in North America, Latin America, Eurasia, Europe, Africa and the Southeast Asia.
The base of legal operation resides in Atlanta, Georgia, where a general counsel oversees a portfolio of over 30,000 world wide registered service marks, trademarks and patents. The legal team works through and in conjunction with the Trademark Practice Team.
Coca Cola has a rich history of developing innovative sales and marketing techniques, leading edge distribution models along with development of numerous beverage products. It is amazing to consider that sales for 2009 were a staggering 23.4 billion dollars, all of which are dependant on a few simple legally protected trademarks.