Legacy of AC/DC: Bon Scott's family triumphs over Swiss sports brand in trademark dispute

In a landmark legal battle, the estate of Bon Scott, the legendary frontman of AC/DC, has emerged victorious in a dispute over trademark rights to his name. The case, which revolved around the potential for confusion between Bon Scott's name and that of a Swiss sportswear brand called Scott Sports, offers valuable insights into trademark law, particularly the concept of likelihood of confusion. Additionally, it sheds light on the significant role trademarks play in the world of merchandise.


Igor Demcak

The Bon Scott Legacy: Trademarking Rock Icon

Bon Scott, born in Forfar, Scotland, and raised in Kirriemuir, Angus, embarked on a journey that would make him an international rock sensation. In 1974, he joined AC/DC, a band that would go on to become one of the world's best-selling and most iconic rock bands. Tragically, Bon Scott's life was cut short at the age of 33 in 1980.

In the years following his passing, Bon Scott's legacy continued to grow, not only in the world of music but also in the world of merchandise. The estate of Bon Scott sought to commemorate his memory by registering his name as a trademark for a line of merchandise. This merchandise included clothing, sunglasses, bags, and wallets, all adorned with the name of the beloved singer.

However, Scott Sports, a Swiss company known for its sportswear, contested this trademark application. They argued that the use of the name "Scott" in Bon Scott's trademark was too similar to their own and could lead to customer confusion. This set the stage for a legal battle that would ultimately be decided by the UKIPO.

Understanding Likelihood of Confusion in Trademark Law

One of the key elements in trademark law is the prevention of consumer confusion. Trademarks are designed to protect the unique identity of a brand, ensuring that consumers can distinguish between different products or services in the marketplace. When two trademarks are similar enough that consumers might mistake one for the other, it creates what is known as a "likelihood of confusion."

The likelihood of confusion is a critical factor in determining whether a trademark can be registered or enforced. Trademark law seeks to safeguard both the rights of trademark owners and the interests of consumers. If a consumer is likely to be confused by the use of similar trademarks on different products or services, it can lead to trademark infringement claims.

In the case of Bon Scott's estate versus Scott Sports, the dispute hinged on whether the use of "Scott" in both trademarks could lead to customer confusion. Scott Sports argued that the similarity between the two names was too close and could result in consumers mistakenly associating their products with Bon Scott's legacy. However, the UK Intellectual Property Office (UKIPO) ultimately ruled in favor of the Bon Scott Estate, deeming that there was no likelihood of confusion between the two trademarks.

The UKIPO Ruling: No Likelihood of Confusion

In its ruling, the UKIPO trademark hearing officer carefully considered the evidence presented by both parties. The key question at hand was whether the average consumer would be likely to confuse the two trademarks—Bon Scott's and Scott Sports'.

The UKIPO's ruling emphasized the principle of "imperfect recollection." In essence, this means that consumers may not remember trademarks with perfect accuracy and that the beginning of a trademark often makes a more significant impression than the end. Therefore, the presence of the distinctive and dominant word "BON" at the beginning of Bon Scott's trademark was deemed sufficient to prevent confusion. The ruling concluded that there was no likelihood of direct or indirect confusion between the two trademarks.

The Significance of Trademarks in Merchandise

The Bon Scott estate's desire to trademark his name for merchandise highlights the pivotal role trademarks play in the world of consumer goods. Trademarks serve as a brand's identity, encapsulating its reputation, quality, and values. When consumers see a trademark, they form expectations about the products or services associated with it. This expectation is especially critical in the realm of merchandise, where consumers often make purchase decisions based on their trust in a brand's name and reputation.

For the Bon Scott Estate, the trademark was a means to protect Bon Scott's legacy. It allowed them to control the use of his name on various products, ensuring that only authorized merchandise bearing his name would enter the market. This not only preserves the integrity of Bon Scott's image but also generates revenue that can support various endeavors, such as music-related projects or charitable causes.

On the other hand, Scott Sports, with its well-established brand, recognized the value of protecting its trademark. Trademarks are valuable assets that can be synonymous with quality and reliability in consumers' minds. In the competitive world of sportswear, where consumers have myriad options, maintaining the distinctiveness of their trademark is crucial to Scott Sports' continued success.

Igor Demcak
Igor Demcak

Trademark Attorney

Founder of Trama

7 year experience in IP protection

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