Tales of nuns, boats, apples and brand protection

One of the most important aspects of trade mark ownership is the ability to control the way a brand is used and, accordingly, protect the brand’s reputation.  Two somewhat unlikely compatriots, Jessica Watson and Mary MacKillop, show how quickly brand management becomes vital when a person or event hits the public spotlight. 

The hype and publicity surrounding Mary MacKillop’s pending sainthood has reportedly provided an opportunity for people to “cash in” on collectables and merchandise using MacKillop’s name or image.  This has prompted the Sisters of Saint Joseph (an order co-founded by MacKillop) to file various Australian trade mark applications related to MacKillop’s name, image, and signature in order to protect and control how her likeness and name is used.  The applications cover a wide range of goods and services – including clothing, games, statues, jewellery, wine, and advertising.

Another recent example involves Jessica Watson’s yacht, “Ella’s Pink Lady”.  Watson’s yacht displayed a mark which is similar to a trademark registered by Apple and Pear Australia Limited (APAL) – both contain the words “Pink Lady” in cursive style writing within a heart shape.  With something similar to APAL’s mark being thrust into the spotlight in a way APAL could not control, Pink Lady Australia reportedly made Watson’s team aware of APAL’s international trade marks and asked Watson’s team to not do anything to damage the brand.

These two examples may at first seem worlds apart.  However, both illustrate brand issues arising from the use of (and therefore the potential misuse of, or damage to) a brand or name in a way that is out of a brand owner’s (or in the case of MacKillop, the potential brand owner’s) control, when someone enters public prominence.

Interestingly, now that Jessica Watson has captured the public imagination, reports suggest that APAL has decided to embrace her use of “Pink Lady” on her now famous yacht.  They might even ask Watson to become their ambassador.  It shows how the line between brand protection and brand promotion can become blurred, and change as quickly as public sentiment… 


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