Newsflash: Martin Trademarks Headstock Shape

Martin guitars announced today they have trademarked the headstock shape.

“The clean, simple, iconic shape of the Martin guitar headstock has long been recognized by consumers as one of the primary identifying brand and design elements of our guitars,” said C. F. Martin & Co. Vice President, Corporate Operations Gregory Paul. “Use of this shape by others can only be intended to create confusion in the marketplace.”

U.S. Trademark Registration No. 3,048,307. Here’s the USPTO page outlining the application and details of the trademark:

Editors reaction:

From what I can tell, the real test will come if anyone will contest the trademark. Theoretically it’s not a strong case due to many factors such as previous non-enforcement, non-standardisation and there is a case to be amde that Martin were not the originators of the headstock shape. The real issue will be if they try to enforce it or someone challenges it. Although most of the builders are small, there are mid sized companies like Collings, Santa Cruz plus Bourgeois and say Recording King who may wish to band together to challenge this.

What do you think? Comment below to let us know!

Reactions from the forums:

Jim Samuel from OLF:

“One of the things you have to show in order to protect a trademark is that you were the first to use that design and that you made a good faith effort to protect your work and stop others from using it from the day you originated the design. Clearly, Martin has not made an effort to stop others from using the headstock shape since it first used it. My guess is that the first time Martin tries to stop another builder or company from using the headstock, it will lose in court if the other builder decides to fight back. Martin has a 161 year history of not protecting the shape …. now they are going to try to trademark it?

And lets not forget that the Martin headstock shape has not remained constant over the years. The late 1960s and 1970s had a pronounced curve on the top. It’s harder to protect a trademark when the “owner” does not use it consistently.

It is similar to another fight a few years ago when Fender tried to stop others from using the Telecaster and Stratocaster body shapes. They did not do enough to protect the shapes over the years, so they lost their case on the body shapes.”

mcsmyth9 from AGF:

“Actually they(Gibson) sued PRS and lost. . PRS stopped producing singlecut guitars during the litigation and after they won they stated producing them again. The judge determined that nobody was going to be confused and not be able to distinguish between the two brands. Unless someone deliberately tries to copy other design elements as well, Martin may have a hard time overcoming the Gibson vs. PRS precedant.”

Howard Klepper from AGF:

“First off, getting a trademark registered in no way involves a legal decision that the mark is valid and enforceable. It involves sending in paperwork and paying a fee.

Next, registration only gives rights against future users. Past users may continue their historic use.

If the registered owner chooses to sue, among the relevant defenses against the validity of their trademark are: that the mark is functional rather than decorative; and that the mark was lost by a history of failing to enforce it.

The gist of a successful case for enforcement of a trademark is always that the defendant’s goods would be mistaken for the plaintiff’s goods by a reasonable purchaser.

Martin is touching base here for whatever it may be worth to them. It doesn’t cost much. They got taken by surprise in China last year, and are now closing the barn door on the chance that some horse is still lurking inside, so to speak.”