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Posted on November 11, 2013

When is a logo a Coat of Arms? Ask the Court of Lord Lyon (1592)

By Neale Gilhooley, Evolution Design (updated 18/3/16)

Many companies create badges, crests and logos using shields and heraldic devices including various elements taken from a full Coat of Arms; a shield, helmet, mantling, wreath, crest, motto, supporters and decorations to create the perception of authenticity or nobility, an aristocratic premium product. Some create a full Coat of Arms and go through the full legal process of registering these, not as trademarks but by petitioning the Court of Lord Lyon which has existed in its current form since the 14th Century.

Donald Trump with his then fake coat of arms logoCompanies such as the Donald Trump Organisation inadvertently often fail to go through the mandatory legally procedure when used by a Scottish based company and find themselves in front of the Lord Lyon himself. It does not make the US Presidential candidate Donald Trump a criminal but his company were breaking Scots law and it was his family crest that they used as a company logo (image of Donald Trump with his company Coat of Arms courtesy TheRichTimes.com see link for full story which dragged through the court for many years).

CoLL-home-300x193The Lord Lyon is the sole King of Arms in Scotland, an Act of the Scottish Parliament of 1592 gave the Lord Lyon responsibility for prosecuting as a criminal offence anyone who uses unauthorised Arms. A further Act of the Scottish Parliament in 1672 created the Public Register of All Arms and Bearings in Scotland, which is maintained by the Lyon Clerk and Keeper of the Records and contains an official copy of every Coat of Arms granted in Scotland since 1672. Any coat of arms – or logo designed to look like one that is not in the Public Register, if used for companies based in Scotland is not legal.

When does a logo/badge/crest become a Coat of Arms? Best to find out as early in the process as possible and logo designers or brand developers or the client can enquire directly at the Court of Lord Lyon to assist by visiting HM New Register House, West Register Street in Edinburgh. The staff are remarkably helpful and keen to consult with designers and companies to ensure that a Coat of Arms or designs incorporating a shield or other heraldic device are used legally, often for the protection of the real owner. Even logo designers aware of trademark and copyright law may be lacking the experience of brand development and of the research and legal verification needed before publishing a logo or using a home-made Coat of Arms, if your head office is in Scotland.

We know this from our own experience as Evolution Design has been through this process when working with the marketing department at the Royal College of Surgeons (inc 1505). In a productive meeting with Court staff who were most helpful in indicating which elements could be extracted and used alone. It is important for a commercially focussed organisation to be able to depict the shield alone without the full Coat of Arms when space does not allow, or when not appropriate.  Also to ensure that they do not use elements in isolation that could be confused with other bodies. In this case we were advised by the Court that two other Scottish hospitals used a visually similar heraldic device, but both had been absorbed by the NHS and one had even closed altogether, so no conflict arose. This input and assistance along the way helped to save the College money. We saved our own creative time.

Rhetorical-home-300x270We have also worked with Clients wishing to make more use of their Coat of Arms as an asset. In 2009 the Rhetorical Company asked Evolution to redesign their website using elements from their Coat of Arms to explain their relevance with the aims and objectives of their service. Left is the full Coat of Arms and then below extracts of it explained: Two Barrulets Wavy Parted per Pale Argent and Or

Rhetorical-comms-300x300The wavy lines represent the reciprocal use of sound that is the basis of conversation. The colours remind us that “Speech is Silver but Silence is Golden”.  Hence Rhetorical teach the most valuable lesson that communication is also about developing listening skills.

Our initial meeting with the Directors of the Rhetorical Company also taught us the dangers of using Lorem Ipsum the designers’ favourite specimen typeface used since the 1500’s with a client fluent in Latin. Mea cupla from Evolution Design. Having worked previously with the Court of Lord Lyon we have experience of the process also in the past we have been hit by a copyright troll and take stringent efforts to ensure that cannot ever happen again. We even went to the trouble of Trademarking our own name and logo, so IP ownership and defence of your digital assets is in our minds too.

It is worth noting that Donald Trump’s Scottish company also had to be taken to task by the Procurator Fiscal to Lyon Court in 2008 after inadvertently using his own ‘unregistered coat of arms‘ but they did remove all offending marketing material promptly and went through the due process, although either he or his PR people seemed to need to claim this as a victory, perhaps they needed a PR ‘win’ or an ego boost, legitimacy even, when Arms were granted in 2012, visible here.

So when developing company and brand assets it is best to check the legality as well as checking if it already is or can be trademarked before publishing. It is a discipline and part of the design process. At Evolution we always offer to assign copyright and any IP benefits to our Client as part of the project, it is even written into our proposals and as well as being the right thing to do it also established trust from the outset. Check with your designer as it is not an automactic process and a letter of assignation is needed.

I was gifted a Scottish highland estate along with a certificate entitling me to ‘style’ myself the Laird of Lochaber, my land is quite small and the company selling these ‘estates’ have registered the Lochaber Coat of Arms as a Trademark UK00002533943. Use of  this trademarked device in Scotland would be unlawful despite it being recorded as a Trade Mark by the Intellectual Property Office.  Also I would suggest that you do not buy from this source as I don’t want too many of us turning up at the House of Lords on the same day. You can read what the Court of Lord Lyon thinks of my claim in Lairds section of their website.

Neale Gilhooley, Laird of Lochaber (almost)

Further reading,

The Court of Lord Lyon website; http://www.lyon-court.com

Scotlands People; the official Scottish genealogy resource  http://www.scotlandspeople.gov.uk/content/help/index.aspx?r=554&1283

  • Image of the illegal Trump Coat of Arms courtesy of DolceMag.com
  • Image of Donald Trump with his new company Coat of Arms courtesy TheRichTimes.com see http://www.therichtimes.com/donald-trump-gets-his-own-scottish-coat-of-arms/ for full story
  • Screen shots of the Court of Lord Lyon website are used with their kind permission.
  • The Rhetorical Company website belongs to them and is used with permission.
  • The Royal College of Surgeons learned a lot from the consultancy work that we provided, choosing not use the final designs developments requested by their marketing department, so that work all remains copyright of Evolution Design Ltd.
  • Evolution® & Evolution Design® are registered trade marks of Evolution Design Limited