SPACE IP – The Importance Of Trade Marks And Branding

Space Trade marks

The following article was first published on Space East’s website.

Trade marks and logos adopted by companies to promote their products and services are familiar to us all. Some of them may have strong associations or evoke memories of particular times, such as the packaging of food or drink we remember enjoying as children.

Other logos might be associated with memories of important events in history, and with the familiar images recording those events. Some of the most iconic photographs documenting the 1969 Apollo 11 moon landing feature astronauts displaying NASA’s famous circular logo on the chest of their space suits.

This red, white and blue roundel design[1] was introduced in 1959, shortly after NASA’s formation, and was nicknamed the “meatball”. It includes graphical elements representative of NASA’s activities: a round blue background representing a planet; stars indicating space; a white circular spacecraft orbit; and a red V-shaped wing to represent aeronautics. The symbolism of these elements combines to produce a memorable logo having a visual association with the organisation’s mission to explore the unknown.

The “meatball” logo was phased out for a period in 1975, but was reintroduced in the early 1990s. It remains the most prominent symbol for NASA today, and is protected as a trade mark around the world.

Trade marks can consist of any distinctive sign, typically a word and/or logo, that identifies your goods or services and distinguishes your brand from competitors. In modern times, trade marks can include shapes, sounds or even smells! Although it is possible to acquire rights in a trade mark over time without it being registered, formally registering a trade mark is the most straightforward way to prevent third parties from using it without permission.

A trade mark registration can be kept in force indefinitely (subject to periodic renewal, usually every 10 years), as long as it is being used. Some trade marks in commercial use can stay protected for many decades – for example, the first trade mark registered under the UK’s Trade Mark Registration Act of 1875 was a version of the Bass Brewery’s triangle logo, which has remained continuously registered since 1 January 1876.

Each trade mark is registered in respect of a specified list of goods and services. In NASA’s case, these include scientific apparatus, aeronautical and space shuttle services, and other scientific services including the manufacture of aeronautical equipment and scientific research. For an organisation of this type, it is important to control the use of such a logo to protect against parties using it to imply NASA’s official endorsement of products, services, scientific programmes, etc, which are not in fact sanctioned by, or associated with, the organisation.

Note, however, that NASA may also choose to meet a demand for merchandise not directly related to its scientific activities, such that trade marks for well-known brands of this sort may also be extended to cover clothing and other memorabilia. Giving thought to coverage of products outside of the organisation’s core activities is also a significant part of a brand management strategy.

Trade marks and branding are important considerations for businesses across all industries including, as can be seen here, those extending out of this world. [1]


If you have any queries regarding this topic, or would like assistance creating or implementing an IP strategy, please contact Nick South and Adrian Bennett of our team.

Category: Latest Insights | Author: Nick South | Published: | Read more