Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Dog Breed Trademarks

The Elo, pictured here enjoying an Italian vacation with his people, while I was doing the same, is a relatively new breed that's being developed in Germany. The breed name Elo is trademarked.

The idea of trademarking a dog is the result of the much publicized brouhaha surrounding  the Border Collie and Jack Russell Terrier wars, working dogs that for centuries have been bred based on what they do, not on how they look. 

Above: The working Border Collie on the left, dog show Border Collie on the right. Unlike registered purebreds that must prove ancient lineage in studbooks, many Border Collie sheepdog trial champions are registered on merit (ROM), meaning they are awarded the breed name solely because they can perform the required task, creating a population of dogs that do not look exactly the same.

The trademark kerfuffle began in 1988, when the American Border Collie Association and others heard rumblings about registering the breed for AKC conformation showing, which requires a breed standard.  (Breed standards serve three purposes: assessment in competition; deliniation of unique qualities in different breeds - some very similar to one another;  and maintenance of breed similarity throughout the world.)  This idea didn’t go over well with sheep trail enthusiasts because a Border Collie is what it does, not what it looks like. They believed that AKC conformation requirements threatened the future of their breed.

Led by Donald McCaig, who retold the tale in his 2007 book, The Dog Wars, the group prepared for battle: “ Hands off the Border Collie! We own Border Collies. Our dogs are companion dogs, obedience dogs and livestock herding dogs. For hundred of years Border Collies have been bred to strict performance standards and today they’re the soundest most trainable dogs in the world. The AKC wants to push them out of the Miscellaneous Class and into the show ring. They seek a conformation standard (appearance standard) for the breed. We, the officers of every single legitimate national, regional, and state Border Collie association reject conformation breeding. Too often the show ring fattens the puppy mills and creates unsound dogs. We will not permit the AKC to ruin our dogs.”
The ABCA filed to legally trademark the name, but lost, and in 1997, the first Border Collie was shown in conformation at AKC's Westminster Dog Show.

Another trademark kerfuffle - In 1994, the AKC's National Labrador Retriever Club revised its standard to exclude dogs less than 22 inches. (Bitches must be no shorter than 21 inches). Some breeders of dogs that no longer met the standard were part of an eleven million dollar class action suit against AKC, claiming that height restrictions excluding shorter dogs no longer described the Labrador Retriever. If you make a bigger dog, you make a different dog. Litigants said that it’s perfectly reasonable to change a breed, but the dog should have a different name. They tried and failed to trademark the name Labrador Retriever.

A lab bred to work is
a smaller more compact dog.
A lab bred to be a companion
might be larger.
Is it the same breed?

While the Border Collie battle was raging, AKC enthusiasts saw an opportunity to register Jack Russell Terriers, an irascible independent dog with an intense work ethic, an extremely diverse genome and a phenotype as dissimilar as that of the Border Collie.  
JRTs are a group of diverse shapes, sizes and coat types.
Historically, they've been strictly selected on work performance.
Many Jack Russell Terrier breeders vehemently opposed the action, knowing that the breed’s physical and working characteristics would be jeopardized.  Nevertheless, a splinter group formed the requisite national breed club, named itself the Jack Russell Terrier Breeders Association and gained AKC registration in 2001.

Alston Chase tells the story of the breakup
of the breed in his 2008 book.
If you plan to make a different dog, then shouldn't you use a different name?  After a long drawn out court battle the working dog enthusiasts won when the court finally said "yes". The name Jack Russell Terrier was awarded to the working phenotype.  The AKC dog's name was changed to Parson Russell Terrier, and the parent club is now the Parson Russell Terrier Association of America.

To find out how AKC registration is changing the Border Collie, Lab and JRT, read my article, Body Language: Breed Standards and the Words that Define Them, published in the fall 2013 issue of The Bark.

Although the idea of trademarking a dog is a new strategy, the issue of breed name ownership is not.  In the 1870s, when dog shows became popular, sporting dog enthusiasts faced the same problem. More on that another time.


  1. You remind me of why I love Border Collies, they are beautiful and intelligent and loyal companions.


  2. Such a pity that so much dog politics can get in the way of 'pure' dog appreciation! All this info sounds a little familiar to some of what I have read about Schipperkes and the national shows that occur here. Both my dogs are tail-less, (not born that way!) because of the 'standard', I asked if my first dog, just a couple of weeks old then, if they would leave her tail insitu, but apparently they took it on day 3 of her life. Such a shame! Now of course this is illegal and Schipperkes are allowed to keep their tails, and such cute little tails they are! The Border Collie is such a gracious and stunning looking animal. Great post!!!!!

  3. Wow, these animals actually have trademarks heh. Pleasantly unbelievable. This shows us as to how trademark applies in just about any scenario, object, or even living beings, which is why trademark for application deserves to be studied well.

    Jamie @ UK Trademark Registration

  4. I hope that the working versions hold their ground. I keep thinking that I read the Irish Setter isn't much use as a hunting dog due to breeding to get that lovely coat? And poodles were a retriever?

    1. Hi Gail -
      The Irish are making a comeback. More about that in another post!