Copycat?

CEC logo

In December 2019, Canadian Energy Center rolled out its new logo across its social media accounts.

Progress Software logo

The Twitterverse was quick to point out that the new logo was identical to the logo used by Progress Software Corporation, except for the change in color.

CEC “alternate logo”

Bowed but unbroken, Canadian Energy Center quickly pivoted and started using what a CEC spokesperson referred to as “an alternate logo.”

ATK logo

It didn’t take long for ATK Technologies to point out that CEC’s new logo was suspiciously like ATK’s logo.

Leaving aside whether the logos selected by CEC are infringing, how did this happen? Was it a coincidence? Did the agency who prepared the first logo actually copy the Progress logo? Was whoever created the second logo also a copycat?

It’s hard to know whether these are cases of blatant copying. Creatives who work on logos tend to notice logos. They may not consciously realize they’re copying something they once saw in passing.

That’s why it’s up to the client to check on what’s out there before launch. Even if you’re not infringing, it’s embarrassing to screw this up. Screwing it up twice looks like you have no idea what you’re doing.

Shout out to Liz B. for sending me the information that led to this post.

An OK Way to Use Someone Else’s Trademark

Q: My bakery sells cakes with crushed NILLA® wafers mixed into the icing. We call it the “The Nilla Nihilation.” Is that okay?

A: Nope. You can’t use someone else’s trademark like that without their permission.

Q: Then how do we tell people what’s in it?

A: You can use NILLA in the description of the cake, like this: “A vanilla lover’s dream. Moist yellow cake, richly coated with buttermilk icing mixed with crushed Nilla® wafer cookies.”

Q: What’s the difference? I’m still using NILLA. Why can’t I put it in the name of the cake?

A: Describing your cake as containing Nilla® wafer cookies isn’t using NILLA as a trademark. It’s just naming an ingredient. It’s a subtle but very real legal difference.

Q: Okay. Anything else I should know?

A: It’d be a good idea to include this in the fine print: “Nilla® is a registered trademark owned by Intercontinental Great Brands LLC.”

Q: NILLA wafers contain high fructose corn syrup, which, yuck! We found vanilla wafer cookies that don’t use corn syrup. We’re gonna use those instead.

A: Then the description of the cake can NOT include NILLA. Remember Ben & Jerry’s® Coffee Heath® Bar Crunch ice cream? That’s now called Coffee Toffee Bar Crunch because Ben & Jerry’s stopped using Heath® bars.

Q: I can’t believe Nabisco would even care.

A: They will. Many companies have licensing deals with other brands and the trademark owner has to make sure other people aren’t using the trademarks without a license.

Shout out to Ginny J. for asking questions that led to this blog post.