The Sydney Opera House has quietly taken legal steps to ensure its distinctive billowing sail roof line can’t be used by just anyone to make money without permission.
The World Heritage Listed building has officially trademarked its iconic image from all angles more than 40 years after it was opened.
This effectively blocks anyone from producing, for example, a range of mugs or t-shirts displaying the opera house without the say-so of the Sydney Opera House Trust.
The opera house has always controlled the image of the structure, the flat two-dimensional rendering of the building.
What this trademark does is establish the Sydney Harbour Opera Trust as the owner of the 3D image, which gives it better control over physical goods such as souvenirs.
The Opera House has long had guidelines for two-dimensional use and the Trust encourages visitors to take photographs for personal use, but approval is needed to use an image to advertise a product.
The application to trademark was made in August last year but it wasn’t until last week that a fee of $5,100 was paid to IP Australia.
Law firm King and Wood Mallesons, a Sydney Opera House sponsor, says its image is one of the most recognised in the world.
“However, while it is a symbol of Australia and a great public institution, some people think that they can use the image for their own commercial purposes, or as part of their own brand,” Mallesons says.
Patent lawyer Mark Williams of Phillips Ormonde Fitzpatrick tweeted: “Souvenir shops beware! The shape of the Sydney Opera House is now a registered trademark.”
He says the trademark will enable the opera house to charge a fee to those who want to produce souvenirs.
Having the exclusive right to produce opera house mugs could be lucrative.
“Basically, you want to prevent others from using the Sydney Opera House shape on goods, typically souvenir type goods,” Mark Williams says.
“In Australia, shape trademarks are quite common for consumer items such as perfume bottles and drink bottles, but there are relatively few shape trademarks for buildings.”
Williams says he can find only one other, the rounded Muzz Buzz buildings, a drive-in coffee franchise.
How strict the opera house will be in enforcing its rights remains to be seen.
As well as restricting souvenirs, the opera house could prevent a commercial entity (such as a company or a business) or even an individual using its image on a blog or via social media.
The opera house says protecting the brand, both the name and the image, is a matter of good housekeeping, an evolution of existing measures, and strengthens the ability to protect against unauthorised commercial use.
“We already have a number of registered trademarks, including pictorial (2D) front and side views of the Opera House,” a spokesman said.
“However, after reviewing the IP (Intellectual Property) protections available to us, it was decided that shape mark protection would be an important step in strengthening protection of the brand.”
The Sydney Opera House has a number of agreements with businesses, including Lego, Mattel and Pandora, to produce licensed products.
“We do not approve of the image of the Opera House being used to advertise goods or services that are not related to us or which create a false impression that an organisation has a sponsorship or supply arrangement with us,” the spokesman said.
The opera house, a not-for-profit public trading enterprise, is a public asset, with Deloitte Access Economics last year estimating the overall value at $4.6 billion.
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