Insights - Design & Product

How to Protect Your Logo

The recent ruling where IT company Cognizant was forced to change its logo in India, shows how hard it can be to establish and protect brand assets. So we asked a legal expert to weigh in.

yellow registered symbol on grey background

On 9th May, 2024, technology company Cognizant removed its logo from its social handles and instead displayed the word, ‘Innovate.’  The website for India displayed just the Cognizant logotype, without the symbol, while the global website continued to carry the entire logo.

The company’s press department said that using Innovate on social media, was an extension of an internal innovation programme called BlueBolt. (In our opinion, this was a self-goal. Cognizant would have been better served by adopting the same visual strategy across the website and social. They should have just used the Cognizant logotype everywhere – instead of inserting another name that created more chatter.)

Screenshot of Conizant's profile on x
Cognizant has changed the logo on its social handles to ‘Innovate’
Screenshot of cognizant website in India
Cognizant has dropped the symbol from its website for India, and is only using the logotype

The Real Reason

On April 19th, 2024, the Bombay High Court ruled against Cognizant in a logo infringement case filed by Bengaluru-based Atyati Technologies. The temporary order asked Cognizant to stop using its logo in India, because it was deemed similar to the Atyati mark. 

atyati and cognizant logos
The Atyati logo, launched in 2008, and the Cognizant logo, launched in 2022.

The logo in question was launched just a couple of years ago in 2022, by then CEO Brian Humphries, along with a revised slogan. The brand guidelines on the Cognizant website say “Our brandmark is a three-dimensional cube that represents our ability as a technology partner to view complex problems from various angles and deliver effective solutions.” 

The Atyati logo, according to the court documents, was created in 2008 and has been registered in India.

Did Cognizant Rip-Off Atyati?

Short answer: Highly unlikely 

There is no published information about who designed the Cognizant logo. Whether it was done in-house or by an agency, we don’t believe that a company of Cognizant’s stature and reputation would deliberately copy a logo. 

We have written before about how it has become increasingly difficult to ensure uniqueness of design, given the duplication and proliferation of visual styles on the Internet.

So, what is the best way to ensure you are investing in a unique logo?  

We turned to Senior Advocate, Chander Lall, an Intellectual Property expert, for advice. 

The Legal View

Adopting a new brand name

Traditional branding advice would say that an easily understood name, which makes the offering clear, is a preferred route. Lall, however, says that if one were to look at brand names through the lens of IP protection, then descriptive and laudatory names are least defensible (Examples: Barista and Classic Coffee), while coined names are the most easy to protect (Example: Kodak).

Adopting a new logo

Before adopting a new logo, run extensive searches in publicly available forums, advises Lall.  

Start with reverse image searches through Google, TinEye, Yandex or even Pinterest. Mohor Ray Dahiya, co-founder of design studio, Codesign recommends doing this “right at an initial sketch level with anything that seems promising and then running refined options through the searches again to be doubly sure.”

This process is far from foolproof. We ran a reverse image search on Google with the Cognizant logo and it did not show Atyati’s logo.

Logo of deepbrain.ai
A reverse Google image search using the Cognizant logo did not throw up the Atyati logo, but it did bring up this somewhat similar one.

This is because the current image searches seem to match by form and colour.  When we changed the Cognizant mark to orange, Google showed the Atyati logo in the results. (Note: Here’s an AI-product idea just waiting to be implemented).

google search results for orange 3D logo
When we changed the colour of the Cognizant logo to orange, Google Image Search showed the Atyati logo in the results. This seems to be a severe limitation of current image search tools.

For the next step of searching through Government databases by country, you should bring in legal experts. It requires searching through thousands of marks and only specialised teams are equipped to do this. 

We don’t know if Cognizant followed this step, but since Atyati’s mark was registered in Class 9 (software and technology), it should have shown up in a search done right for India.

How important is it to register your logo?

Lall says that logo registration can be a sword, but not always a shield. This means that having a registered logo empowers you to take action against others who may be infringing on your intellectual property. However, having a registered logo by itself is not enough. 

He points to a 1996 landmark case that he fought, where an Indian company had registered the trademark ‘Whirlpool’ for washing machines in the country, a brand of Whirlpool, USA.  The brand could only be salvaged by the US company after a long-drawn out legal battle, where the American company provided  extensive evidence of pre-existing trademark use and brand association through trans-border reputation.   The Delhi High Court and the Supreme Court finally ruled in their favour.

In a more recent case, Elon Musk’s carmaker Tesla is suing Indian battery maker Tesla Power, for damages and trademark infringement. The case is currently in court.

What about Brand Extensions ? 

Brands start out by being associated with a product.  Apple may be a fruit, but is now better associated with a computer, Barista may be the generic name of a coffee maker, but is now associated with a coffee chain.  As brands become popular, brand owners often wish to capitalise on this equity and extend it to a new range of products – Kingfisher from beer to an airline, ITC from cigarettes to a whole range of consumer products. Even Wills made a somewhat unsuccessful attempt to extend from cigarettes to apparel.   

Planning for this requires taking the long view and making proactive moves. For example, Apple was forced to pay $60 million to Chinese company Proview, who had registered the iPad trademark in the country.

“So while it is strongly advised that you register your IP, it doesn’t end there,” says Lall. “You have to be constantly vigilant about your brand assets and take immediate action if you see any infringement.  That is the only way to reinforce your market position against potential threats and expensive oversights. If you allow others to copy your brand, even for a somewhat unrelated category of goods, you could be held guilty of diluting your brand equity.” he concludes.

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