In January 2020, an interdisciplinary workshop called ‘Brand Biographies’ was held at Birkbeck, University of London, convened by Jose Bellido (University of Kent) and Alain Pottage (Sciences Po, France). Instead of foregrounding legal themes or categories, the Workshop invited papers that focussed on specific historical studies of trade marks and brands, with a view to uncovering the variety of socio-historical or cultural practices which shape brands. Speakers at the event included Lionel Bently, who drew on original archival research to show how the mark SINGER was utilised in the nineteenth century as a powerful right to control distribution and markets for sewing machines, Dev Gangee, who presented on the implications for legal protection of the use of social media to create ‘celebrity’, and Jose Bellido, who drew on archival sources to demonstrate new perspectives on the well-known twentieth century passing off case of McCulloch v. May concerning the children’s radio presenter Uncle Mac. Also contributing was CREATe’s Elena Cooper who presented on the nineteenth century history of the Jaeger trade mark for clothing, uncovering the ways in which Jaeger’s particular branding strategy – tied to the medical ideas of Dr Gustav Jaeger of Stuttgart and the importation of goods from Germany – allows us to shed new light on two aspects of the legal history of trade marks: the relation between trade marks and personality, and the historic idea of trade marks as indicating geographical origin of manufacture. The latter included the story of the high-profile criminal prosecution of Jaeger concerning use of the Jaeger trade mark, brought by the Board of Trade in 1897, for criminal offences under the Merchandise Marks Act 1887, which relates to Dr Cooper’s wider Leverhulme Trust funded project on the history of the criminalisation of intellectual property. Papers were delivered also by Kathy Bowrey (Felix the Cat), David Higgins (the National Mark for eggs), Eva Hemmungs-Wirten (Marie Curie), Luminita Olteanu (Burberry), Andrew Ventimiglia (faith branding), Wendelin Bruhwiler (formatting fungibles?), Tom Johnson and Alain Pottage (merchants’ marks), Hyo Yoon Kang (Steinway), Celia Lury (MyUniversity) and Oren Bracha (brand property from below).
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