I’ve just found a great story from last September about the ubiquitous and quintessentially British slogan KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON. I bought my first souvenir carrying this slogan from the gift shop in the WWII bunkers known as The War Rooms. In my ignorance, I thought it was a reproduction of a real war-time slogan. It sounds so awfully plausible. Now I have learnt that although the Ministry of Information did produce posters bearing this slogan, they were (in a rare example of British self-insight) deemed too patronising and never saw the light of day.
In an intriguing backstory, it seems that in 2000 a bookseller in Northumberland found an old poster in the back of his shop. He checked with the Imperial War Museum that it was out of copyright, and started selling reproductions. He never applied to register the design as a trade mark, nor claimed copyright in the image.
In 2007 a more entrepreneurial businessman began selling mugs, t-shirts, and all kinds of other items bearing the slogan. His company is called Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd. The web site happily gives the historical background to the slogan and the poster - and it’s re-discovery in the bookshop.
As Telegraph journalist Gordon Rayner puts it:
“To begin with, both sides did manage to keep calm, but in April Mr Coop gained an EU trademark for the wording of the slogan, thus sparking what must inevitably be described as a right old carry on.”
It seems that applications to register the mark in the UK have been rejected, but OHIM has granted an EU Community Trade Mark.
A brief review of OHIM’s database does indeed show a “right old carry on”. Keep Calm And Carry On Ltd managed to achieve a registration, which has now had an application for cancellation for invalidity filed against it. The company now has a fresh application accepted, in a few extra classes, but no-one has opposed it yet. In between, an enterprising individual managed to have accepted an application to register the words in their familiar graphic form, complete with the crown logo. The Northumberland bookseller has opposed this one.
Interestingly, the slogan has spawned a plethora of spin-off slogans. Examples from the company’s own website include:
KEEP CALM AT CHRISTMAS
KEEP CALM AND COME IN (on a doormat)
KEEP CALM AND EAT CUPCAKES
KEEP CALM AND CUDDLE UP
GET EXCITED AND MAKE THINGS
KEEP CALM FOR CHAPS
KEEP CALM FOR LADIES
KEEP CALM AND CARRY ON COOKING
KEEP GLAM AND ROCK ON
and my personal favourite:
PANIC NOW AND FREAK OUT
Apart from these enterprising variations on a theme, Keep Calm and Carry On Ltd also has products using other war-time slogans - such as DIG FOR VICTORY.
The whole saga has resulted in quite a few people ignoring the maxim in the slogan. Here is a protest site collecting signatures to battle the grant of the EU trade mark registrations, and prevent applications for registration in the USA and Canada. Their slogan: KEEP CALM IS NOT A TRADE MARK.
Everyone should just keep calm. The lawyers will carry on.