History of the Origin of Trademarks (part 1)

The history of trademarks as means of individualization on the way to establishment of the modern legislation started in ancient times and passed several stages for the period expired therefrom. Trademark preimages were symbolic paintings, brands, marks, signboards that played an individualizing role in respect of goods and services. The trademark became the most called-for symbol of trade relations in the period of flourishing market economies[1]. However, judging by archeological finds, the human beings used to brand animals they got, their skins, and other objects already in the Stone Age. In the period from IX to VIII centuries B.C. people applied primitive marks  on most valuable things that enabled to identify their owners.

These valuable things included various implements, arms, fishing tackles, tools, vital utensils, and cattle. One of the first and most widespread objects of the primeval world, which was provided with an identifying mark, was a clay pot. This may be explained by the fact that the pot was a storage means for not only foods, but for seed grain also which was of special importance in periods of scarce crops and declines in hunting and fishing take. The major hazard for preservation of seeds was presented by evil spirits, and they were frightened off with protective paintings and magical signs depicted on the pot. Apart from the function of keeping seeds intact, such paintings and signs played the auxiliary role of identification. Judging by results of archeological surveys, one can determine what clan and tribe the ancient author related to, where his tribe came from, and what spirits patronized him.

The fall of the primitive-communal system, the transition from appropriation of products of the nature to their transformation, and improvement of the implements all led to an increase in the production efficiency, which brought about the separation of the production into individual activities. During this period farming was isolated from cattle-breeding and handicrafts, and the class of people appeared who were engaged in exchange[2]. The appearance of the market that was caused thereby played a huge role in the life of population, since it included the element of competition among producers of similar goods, which caused the necessity in most perfect production marking. The appearance of the written language also had its effect on the pattern and capabilities of that marking. In particular, ancient civilizations such as Sumerian-Babylonian, Egyptian, Greco-Roman, etc. left a significant number of means of individualization on the most valuable objects of the material world. Articles manufactured by ancient craftsmen, as found in the process of archeological excavations, convincingly prove that means of individualization were widely used thereby. This is confirmed, e.g., by the fact that during archeological excavations cotton cloths bearing special identifying marks were found in the modern territories of Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala. Naturally, in the period where no market relations existed, symbolic paintings and brands used by ancient craftsmen for marking their articles were not trademarks. But, nevertheless, it is just from that time the evolution of trademarks started.

One of the first trademark preimages were brands[3]. A brand served as a sign of personal or group property which was used by tribe members for differentiating  their things from those of others. A brand was notable by its multifunctionality, since it was used for several purposes, in particular was the sign of a clan and, as such, was inherited. Simultaneously, a brand, as a property sign, performed one more differentiating function, namely, the function of referring property, immovable property, cattle, household items, etc., i.e. everything marked with a brand, to a certain clan.

As an example of brands, stones may mentioned, which masons erecting burial  vaults for kings provided with a sign of the location where these stones were taken from. Sometimes, the seal of the ruler was attached, as, for example, at the times of Ur-Nammu from the third dynasty of the Ur rulers (2112–2095 B.C.) when the mausoleum was constructed.

Land owners used brands for marking their implements, hunters marked arms, traps and nets, cattle owners marked their cattle. This technique enabled to ensure the protection of property against encroachments of members of another clan as well as to achieve the solution of the task of finding somebody’s things among others in a case of confusion for any reason. Animals were provided with a brand that was burned out in the body of a horse or a cow or was carved by a special tool on the ears of sheep and goats according to a special pattern[4]. The process of applying brands on animals was called branding. The custom to brand animals is continued till the present time, e.g. in Mongolia and some other countries.

Brands are found on bricks of ancient Rome and on ancient chinaware. Starting approximately from 5000 B.C., the mankind set about massively producing and selling pottery. It is just pottery that born signs which may be regarded as precursors of trademarks used nowadays.

With the development of handicrafts and sales, people began to be more and more interested in quality of goods they used, they became not indifferent about craftsmen whose goods they bought. In that period acute necessity arose to mark goods with marks that much resembled brands. A mark was a kind of authorship sign applied to marketable products. At the same time, a mark also was the quality mark of goods, which could raise doubts in respect of the manufacturer’s reputation or evoke trust to him.


Sometimes, merchants, who were middlemen between sellers and buyers, brought goods far from the location of manufacturing. Since craftsmen reputations were different, buyers preferred to purchase goods of craftsmen known to them, who were easily identified by their respective marks. Ancient Romans, Greeks and Egyptians looked at labels of craftsmen and artists, as served for indicating the origin and quality of goods as well as identifying the manufacturer’s name. A mark was regarded as a trademark since the time when his owner received the right to use thereof for the purpose of deriving profits as well as since the time when liability for goods of poor quality emerged. Additionally, a mark also provided information on goods. Ancient Romans, for example, applied marks on oil lamps that proved to be better than articles manufactured by other craftsmen[5].

Gradually, marking of goods became obligatory. It is considered that the first legislative act relating to trademarks appeared in 1266. This act was adopted by the English Parliament and fixed that each baker was obliged to apply a certain identifying sign on his products in order “if bread is baked in an insufficient weight, everyone may know who is to blame”[6].

Each craftsman was responsible for quality of goods manufactured by him, and such goods should bear his mark. If several craftsmen were involved into manufacturing of a same product, each of them applied his mark on the result of his labor.

In connection with development of the jewel craft the necessity arose to establish a uniform standard for precious metal content of an alloy. Assay offices were set up, which obliged craftsmen to stamp marks on jewelry articles. The earliest French jewelry mark is dated back to 1272. And starting from 1275, obligatory marking of gold and silver articles was introduced in the whole territory of France. The special decree stipulated that all such articles should be marked with the mark of a respective city and the craftsman’s name.

 to be continued!

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