This blog is part 1 of 3. Click here to read Part 2.
A few weeks ago, one of my professors was thinking out loud and said: “Hm, can you trademark cattle brands?” This would mean nothing to 99% of law students, but it meant a LOT to me.
My family has a 600-acre farm with 350+ angus cattle. Over the last decade, my father has poured every ounce of his spare energy into making the farm a legitimate cattle operation. With that, I received an unexpected education on how to raise cattle during my regular visits. Bailing hay, vaccinations, birthing issues, pregnancy schedules, genetics, buying cows, selling cows, growing the right type of grass… you get the point.
So, when my professor asked about cattle brands, I immediately perked up. This was my realm. I have been around intellectual property my entire adult life. I’m less than a year away from officially becoming an IP attorney. I know that famous farming brands like John Deere and CLAAS have rightfully been in the IP spotlight for years, providing precedential opinions in both trademark and patent law. But… how had I never thought of this connection?
Once I dug my heels in, this article quickly became an eye-opening walk through their impact on trademarks that I will nerdily share with anyone willing to listen for years to come.
Raising cattle is big business.
If you’re like me and saw the initials DVF, you would likely think of Diane von Furstenberg, the Belgian fashion designer known for creating the wrap dress.
But what if you saw the initials DVF on the back of a… cow? Well, this would mean you were looking at a bull who was bred and raised at Deer Valley Farm, a Tennessee ranch run by a rocket-scientist-turned-cattleman that sells Angus cattle with premium genetics. And it is big business.
The financial impact is equally as high. The USDA states that “In 2021, cattle production is forecasted to represent about 17 percent of the $391 billion in total cash receipts for agricultural commodities.”
The introduction of artificial insemination gave cattlemen new avenues of income. Not only can a bull’s genetic material generate income, but the bulls themselves can fetch astounding prices. In August 2021, one premium heifer (a cow that has not birthed a calf) from Spruce Mountain Ranch sold at a Colorado auction for $250,000.
Cattle branding: The OG trademark
In case you haven’t made the connection yet, buckle up for an incredibly obvious yet overlooked historical fact.
The “brand” you see in a cereal box in your local grocery store comes from the “brand” that ranchers put on their cattle. Instead of “the brand with the three stripes,” ranchers literally branded three stripes on their cattle.*
Brand like an Egyptian
Branding dates back to 2700 BCE in ancient Egypt where owners of livestock would use fire-heated tools to mark their cattle as a way to indicate their quality and deter theft. The word “brand” comes from the Old English word brond meaning “fire, flame, destruction by fire.”
The First Famous Brand
XIT Ranch, the largest ranch in Texas during the late 1800’s, created one of the most famous marks in cattle branding by applying a 5-inch bar five separate times to create the letters X I T.
Branding iron design advanced in order to reduce the steps taken to place an owner’s mark on livestock, creating a distinct shape that could be applied once—what we now know as a logo.
The First Brand Registry
Once branding was commonly used, there became a need for territorial official registries to signify which designs belonged to an owner. The first brand registry was created in Texas in 1832. Now, most states have their own cattle brand registries, either state-run (like California) or through nonprofit associations (like Texas).
Coming soon: PART 2
This blog is part 1 of 3.
Part 2 will cover:
- Cattle brand imagery in lifestyle brands (#cattlebrands)
- Examples of livestock companies with registered trademarks for their cattle brands
- Do farmers really need to register their trademarks? (Spoiler alert: yes.)
If you haven’t already, subscribe to the newsletter to be updated when Part 2 of IP Illustrated’s “Ultimate Guide to Cattle Brands” is published.
*This is purely speculation for illustration purposes. However, please come forward if you know of any historical cattle who were branded with three stripes and I will update accordingly.