How Did Brands Become a Thing? – Part II

Richard Rimer

March 1, 2023

In my last blog post I explained how brands emerged. While businesses got the idea of marking goods from the cattle industry, the cattle industry took the word “brand” from businesses. 
Idea:          cattle farmers              –>          business
Word:       business                       –>          cattle farmers

The English word “brand” derives from the old German word “brandaz” meaning “to burn.”
– In the 1400s we used “brand” as a noun meaning a mark made on a criminal with a hot iron. 
– In the mid 1500s alcohol makers began marking their casks with a hot iron and called it a “brand.” 
– The English language did not start calling the marks made on cattle a brand until the late 1500s.

Trivia: The oldest brand that has remained in constant use is Stella Artois.  It dates back to 1366!

Once the practice of branding became more widespread, various legal systems enacted laws to protect a wider range of products.  Some early laws include:

– In the 12th century King Edward the First enacted a law prohibiting jewelers from selling their creations unless each piece included a stamp from the Goldsmith’s Hall (a royal office in London). Any jeweler who attempted to create a counterfeit hallmark was executed. 
– In the 13th century King Henry III enacted the Bakers Marking Law.  It required bakers to add a distinctive mark to all bread sold. Bakers who failed to comply with the Bakers Marking Law risked heavy fines and the possibility of having to forfeit all unmarked bread.

– In the 14th century the French passed an edict prohibiting innkeepers from selling common wine under a fraudulent label.  The penalty was death. 
– In the late 14th century France passed another edict which essentially enforced the guild’s rules.  The penalty for placing someone else’s design on your goods was to have your hands cut off. 

Don’t worry— modern trademark law does not include death and dismemberment as punishment for infringement.  However, some of the penalties can kill your business, and you don’t even need to know you are an infringer to face these penalties.