Though I am not certain, I would guess that our modern definition of ‘brand’ referring to a particular known company producing a certain item probably came from the marking of livestock and criminals. As in the past, the symbols and names of a brand denote a kind of ownership, a possession of both the symbol itself and the materials that make it. In some ways, it remains a demeaning mark. Branding in the modern sense often has longer-lasting unintentional consequences in the restrictions placed on the reuse of branded articles.
Take the recent purse prototype by TImbuk2. Made of recycled plastic bags (which really need to be reused, as they are very UN-biodegradable and often pose a hazard to animals), these flash-laminated bags are both water repellent and designed to take advantage of the bright colors and interesting shapes of the plastic bags themselves. Unfortunately Target saw the use of their bags as an infringement of tradaemark, rather than a promotion of their brand.
In some ways, I can understand Target’s side of the story – they are protecting their rights and defending their interests. And I’m sure they spent a considerable amount of money on the design of their bags, which use their logo interestingly. This good design is probably a part of why TImbuk2 included the Target bags in a prototype purse. But whether or not Target eventually takes advantage of this sort of niche eco-conscious market for bags, the Timbuk2 prototype probably would’ve done little harm to the Target brand.
The question for me that comes out of this story is the freedom given to corporations regarding the extension of brands. The question is not so much whether or not Target’s rights were being violated with the reuse of the bags, but whether or not the bags should be branded at all. Especially in a case like this, where the bags are detrimental to the environment, should corporations be held responsible for the number of bags the produce? Should they be rewarded for the number they recycle? Due to the branding of the bags, wouldn’t a corporation see excess bags as additional advertising, rather than a detriment?
It is for situations like this one that I am not a libertarian. The interests of business in this case are not aligned with the public good. The government, whether national or local, should step in to regulate how many branded article should be allowed, how they should be used, and what the environmental impact of such use can be. In addition, there should be a limit to how long brand-name packaging protection can ‘last’. If you want to brand a shirt, fine – the trademark protection endures. If your brand name is on a product package, that box or bag or plastic wrap should be immediately ‘free’ for re-use. Even advertising, such as billboards, magazine and newspaper ads, and even TV and radio spots, should have a certain shelf-life of protection. Afterwards, the public should be free to use it as it pleases. If it happens with copyright and patents, branded goods should be limited int eh same way.