Sixty-five years ago today, the name of a cinematic, chronographic icon was first registered as a trademark in the United States. On March 25, 1952, Swiss watchmaker Omega Louis Brandt & Frere, S.A. was granted U.S. Registration No. 556602 for the mark SEAMASTER, for “watches, watch parts and watch movements.” Long a favored wrist accessory of celebrities, politicians, and other public figures, the Omega SEAMASTER brand gained a new level of fame in 1995 when it replaced Rolex as the preferred onscreen timepiece of James Bond, the cinema’s most celebrated secret agent. SEAMASTER branded watches have featured prominently in every James Bond movie since 1995’s Goldeneye, and Omega even produced two 007-themed commemorative editions of the SEAMASTER watch in 2002 and 2006. The SEAMASTER name remains in use, the 556602 registration is still in force, and best of all, you don’t have to be a member of Her Majesty’s Secret Service to wear one.
One of the many commonly misunderstood aspects of U.S. trademark law is that nearly anything that serves (1) as an indicator of the source of particular goods or services, and (2) to distinguish the goods or services of one seller from another, can function as a trademark. Thus, trademarks are not limited to words or logos, but can also extend to non-traditional marks such as product appearances (trade dress) packaging configurations, sounds, and even smells. One prime example of such a non-traditional mark was first registered on this date twenty-nine years ago, when Weber-Stephen Products Co. was granted its first U.S. registration for the iconic ornamental appearance of its original charcoal kettle grill. U.S. Registration No. 1478530, consisting of “a three-dimensional pictorial representation of the distinctive configuration of the kettle portion of applicant’s barbecue grills,” including “a bottom of generally semi-spherical shape having a top of generally semi-ellipsoid shape,” was granted on March 1, 1988, for “barbeque grills.” A version of Weber’s original charcoal kettle grill is still produced today, and because trademark registrations are perpetually renewable for marks that remain in continuous use, the 1478530 registration remains in force. Weber’s successful efforts to protect the unique and distinctive appearance of its kettle grill serve as a useful reminder that brand owners may be entitled to protection beyond just their brand names.