South Africa: Blockchain And Trade Marks, What's That All About Then?

Last Updated: 31 May 2018
Article by Ilse Du Plessis
Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2019

Blockchain is very much in the news these days, most often in the context of Bitcoin. But people are also talking about blockchain in the context of brands and trade marks. This can be a bit alarming for those of us who aren't techies, but fortunately, there are those in-the-know who can explain just what the links between blockchain and trade marks are.

In an article entitled "How blockchain is replacing branding as a source of trust" (Forbes, 19 March 2018), Dr Jemma Green draws parallels between brands and blockchain. Before going any further it might be worth reminding ourselves just what brands and trade marks are all about.

Branding is essentially about trust. A trade mark is often described as a "badge of origin", which simply means that the trade mark assures the consumer that all goods bearing that trade mark come from the same source (without the customer necessarily knowing who that company is), and that all goods bearing that trade mark are therefore of the same quality (for this reason, a trade mark is sometimes also described as a "badge of quality"). The consumer trusts the trade mark. Yet, as we all know, that trust is often broken, not necessarily because of any action taken by the brand owner, but because of actions taken by third parties: counterfeiters or others who interfere with the supply chain and compromise the quality of the product.

Green goes back to Victorian times, discussing how a miller by the name of Molly goes from simply selling her high-quality flour to the people in her Yorkshire village, to people throughout the entire UK. To do this, Molly creates a trade mark comprising her name and a picture of a windmill, and this, of course, needs legal protection. But even with this legal protection, Molly needs to make sure that there's no tampering with her product – grocers mixing it with cheaper substitutes for example. So, she has to travel the length and breadth of the UK, checking that her product is unadulterated. It's hard work!

Fast-forward to the present. Large supermarket chains like Tesco sell huge quantities of burgers and lasagne ready meals. This obviously requires a great deal of minced beef. But things can go awry in the supply chain – horse meat filled with antibiotics and steroids finds its way into the meat that becomes part of the supermarket burgers and ready meals. This inconvenient truth only comes to light when DNA tests reveal that the lasagne is up to 100% horsemeat. This huge fraud is able to take place notwithstanding the fact that Europe is awash with checks and balances: regulations, directives, food standards agencies and food inspectors who conduct random visits.

Green says that the horse-meat scandal is directly linked to the obsession with cheaper, better, faster –companies will do whatever it takes to "improve" the supply chain. This invariably involves an ever-increasing number of participants and with this comes an ever-greater scope for fraud. She calls this "maximum efficiency, minimum visibility."

This is where blockchain comes in. Blockchain creates a "digital record that's inseparably connected to the product you've got going through the chain." Think of it as "distributed ledger technology", which Green says can be considered a "digital version of the packing note that accompanies a consignment of goods." But unlike paper notes that can be forged and computer records that can be changed, with blockchain nothing can be modified without it showing up as corrupted. That's because each computer in the chain has an immutable record. She suggests that we're moving to a world where there is zero fraud in the supply chain.

In an article that appeared in the April 2018 issue of Managing Intellectual Property, Blockchain Party, Ellie Mertens describes blockchain as "an encrypted, distributed ledger of data that can be used to record information and trade securely without functions through a global network of computers, each piece of data (block) is recorded, then verified by multiple participating computers before being timestamped as it is added to an immutable list of previous data (chain)."

Mertens also discusses the issue of supply chain transparency and says that if customers trust a supply chain, the brand's reputation is likely to be enhanced. She gives some interesting examples of blockchain at work, including:

  • Everledger, which uploads the characteristics, history and ownership of diamonds to blockchain, with the information of over one million diamonds being recorded. This provides an extra layer of protection to the Kimberley process.
  • Provenance, which allows companies to use the term "Powered by Provenance" on labels if the supply chains are made transparent on Provenance's blockchain platform.

Mertens then looks at how blockchain, something that provides a clear record of ownership, is of obvious interest to IP. She says that trade mark information could be stored on blockchain, not simply registrations but also the detailed stuff like ownership and assignments.

Mertens mentions Cognate, a company that offers a blockchain service called chain marks as an alternative to trade mark registrations. The benefits are that registration takes only a day and costs USD40. The downside is that no-one knows whether these registrations are worth anything from a legal point of view. But Mertens does say that the European Intellectual Property Office is looking closely at blockchain as a way of recording and enforcing IP rights.

Blockchain and trade marks – it's about quite a lot as it turns out!

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Related Topics
Related Articles
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Mondaq Free Registration
Gain access to Mondaq global archive of over 375,000 articles covering 200 countries with a personalised News Alert and automatic login on this device.
Mondaq News Alert (some suggested topics and region)
Select Topics
Registration (please scroll down to set your data preferences)

Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including your content preferences, for three primary purposes (full details of Mondaq’s use of your personal data can be found in our Privacy and Cookies Notice):

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting to show content ("Content") relevant to your interests.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, news alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our content providers ("Contributors") who contribute Content for free for your use.

Mondaq hopes that our registered users will support us in maintaining our free to view business model by consenting to our use of your personal data as described below.

Mondaq has a "free to view" business model. Our services are paid for by Contributors in exchange for Mondaq providing them with access to information about who accesses their content. Once personal data is transferred to our Contributors they become a data controller of this personal data. They use it to measure the response that their articles are receiving, as a form of market research. They may also use it to provide Mondaq users with information about their products and services.

Details of each Contributor to which your personal data will be transferred is clearly stated within the Content that you access. For full details of how this Contributor will use your personal data, you should review the Contributor’s own Privacy Notice.

Please indicate your preference below:

Yes, I am happy to support Mondaq in maintaining its free to view business model by agreeing to allow Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors whose Content I access
No, I do not want Mondaq to share my personal data with Contributors

Also please let us know whether you are happy to receive communications promoting products and services offered by Mondaq:

Yes, I am happy to received promotional communications from Mondaq
No, please do not send me promotional communications from Mondaq
Terms & Conditions (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd (Mondaq). Mondaq grants you a non-exclusive, revocable licence to access the Website and associated services, such as the Mondaq News Alerts (Services), subject to and in consideration of your compliance with the following terms and conditions of use (Terms). Your use of the Website and/or Services constitutes your agreement to the Terms. Mondaq may terminate your use of the Website and Services if you are in breach of these Terms or if Mondaq decides to terminate the licence granted hereunder for any reason whatsoever.

Use of

To Use you must be: eighteen (18) years old or over; legally capable of entering into binding contracts; and not in any way prohibited by the applicable law to enter into these Terms in the jurisdiction which you are currently located.

You may use the Website as an unregistered user, however, you are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the Content or to receive the Services.

You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these Terms or with the prior written consent of Mondaq. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information from the Content. Nor shall you extract information about users or Contributors in order to offer them any services or products.

In your use of the Website and/or Services you shall: comply with all applicable laws, regulations, directives and legislations which apply to your Use of the Website and/or Services in whatever country you are physically located including without limitation any and all consumer law, export control laws and regulations; provide to us true, correct and accurate information and promptly inform us in the event that any information that you have provided to us changes or becomes inaccurate; notify Mondaq immediately of any circumstances where you have reason to believe that any Intellectual Property Rights or any other rights of any third party may have been infringed; co-operate with reasonable security or other checks or requests for information made by Mondaq from time to time; and at all times be fully liable for the breach of any of these Terms by a third party using your login details to access the Website and/or Services

however, you shall not: do anything likely to impair, interfere with or damage or cause harm or distress to any persons, or the network; do anything that will infringe any Intellectual Property Rights or other rights of Mondaq or any third party; or use the Website, Services and/or Content otherwise than in accordance with these Terms; use any trade marks or service marks of Mondaq or the Contributors, or do anything which may be seen to take unfair advantage of the reputation and goodwill of Mondaq or the Contributors, or the Website, Services and/or Content.

Mondaq reserves the right, in its sole discretion, to take any action that it deems necessary and appropriate in the event it considers that there is a breach or threatened breach of the Terms.

Mondaq’s Rights and Obligations

Unless otherwise expressly set out to the contrary, nothing in these Terms shall serve to transfer from Mondaq to you, any Intellectual Property Rights owned by and/or licensed to Mondaq and all rights, title and interest in and to such Intellectual Property Rights will remain exclusively with Mondaq and/or its licensors.

Mondaq shall use its reasonable endeavours to make the Website and Services available to you at all times, but we cannot guarantee an uninterrupted and fault free service.

Mondaq reserves the right to make changes to the services and/or the Website or part thereof, from time to time, and we may add, remove, modify and/or vary any elements of features and functionalities of the Website or the services.

Mondaq also reserves the right from time to time to monitor your Use of the Website and/or services.


The Content is general information only. It is not intended to constitute legal advice or seek to be the complete and comprehensive statement of the law, nor is it intended to address your specific requirements or provide advice on which reliance should be placed. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the Content for any purpose. All Content provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq and/or its Contributors and other suppliers hereby exclude and disclaim all representations, warranties or guarantees with regard to the Content, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. To the maximum extent permitted by law, Mondaq expressly excludes all representations, warranties, obligations, and liabilities arising out of or in connection with all Content. In no event shall Mondaq and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use of the Content or performance of Mondaq’s Services.


Mondaq may alter or amend these Terms by amending them on the Website. By continuing to Use the Services and/or the Website after such amendment, you will be deemed to have accepted any amendment to these Terms.

These Terms shall be governed by and construed in accordance with the laws of England and Wales and you irrevocably submit to the exclusive jurisdiction of the courts of England and Wales to settle any dispute which may arise out of or in connection with these Terms. If you live outside the United Kingdom, English law shall apply only to the extent that English law shall not deprive you of any legal protection accorded in accordance with the law of the place where you are habitually resident ("Local Law"). In the event English law deprives you of any legal protection which is accorded to you under Local Law, then these terms shall be governed by Local Law and any dispute or claim arising out of or in connection with these Terms shall be subject to the non-exclusive jurisdiction of the courts where you are habitually resident.

You may print and keep a copy of these Terms, which form the entire agreement between you and Mondaq and supersede any other communications or advertising in respect of the Service and/or the Website.

No delay in exercising or non-exercise by you and/or Mondaq of any of its rights under or in connection with these Terms shall operate as a waiver or release of each of your or Mondaq’s right. Rather, any such waiver or release must be specifically granted in writing signed by the party granting it.

If any part of these Terms is held unenforceable, that part shall be enforced to the maximum extent permissible so as to give effect to the intent of the parties, and the Terms shall continue in full force and effect.

Mondaq shall not incur any liability to you on account of any loss or damage resulting from any delay or failure to perform all or any part of these Terms if such delay or failure is caused, in whole or in part, by events, occurrences, or causes beyond the control of Mondaq. Such events, occurrences or causes will include, without limitation, acts of God, strikes, lockouts, server and network failure, riots, acts of war, earthquakes, fire and explosions.

By clicking Register you state you have read and agree to our Terms and Conditions