Aug 31, 2018

Circles and squares and apostrophes thwart Vodafone

One of the most significant differences in copyright law between the UK and US is that while copyright protection arises automatically in UK, in the US an application has to be made to the US Copyright Office.

In anticipation of a new marketing strategy (which you may have noticed) that makes much more significant use of its logo (pictured above), Vodafone made an application in 2016 to register it for protection in the US. Initially the Copyright Office refused the application on the basis of the "de minimis" rules. Those rules state that a work will only be protected if it possesses more than trivial levels of creativity.

Vodafone appealed against that ruling, but after the decision review board had re-evaluated the application, it reached the same conclusion. It said specifically that "the work did not contain a sufficient amount of original and creative graphic or artistic authorship" to get protection. The board went on to explain that the square, circle, and apostrophe making up the logo are all "common and familiar shapes".

Despite this setback Vodafone requested a second reconsideration. Vodafone argued that the central element was in fact not an apostrophe at all, but a "ballooned droplet" with distinguishable curvature.

The second review upheld the earlier decisions, adding that "an opening quote is a familiar symbol and is not registrable". It also explained that the use of two colours to distinguish three shapes was a "trivial use of colour".

While Vodafone may have been unsuccessful in achieving copyright protection in the US for its "ballooned droplet" logo (which is quite clearly an apostrophe), it does have trademarks covering its logo the world over, including in the US.

If you have any questions on the above, please do not hesitate to contact the team at McDaniel & Co. on 0191 281 4000 or




in: Copyright, EU/International

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