South Africa: Thomas Pink

Last Updated: 18 September 2014
Article by Gaelyn Scott

Most Read Contributor in South Africa, September 2016

The recent UK High Court decision in the case of Thomas Pink and Victoria's Secret covers a range of trade mark issues. Unfortunately the most interesting aspect covered, trade mark dilution, is of little more than academic interest to us in South Africa.

The facts were as follows: Thomas Pink, the UK company that makes those wonderful (and my favourite) shirts, has registrations for the trade mark Pink (either stylised or together with other words) in class 25 for clothing and in class 35 for retail services. When Victoria's Secret opened a number of stores in London called Pink – stores at which it sold a range of so-called 'college girl' clothing – Thomas Pink cried foul. The company claimed that its trade mark registrations had been infringed, firstly because there was a likelihood of confusion, and secondly because there would be dilution of its well-known trade mark .Victoria's Secret counterclaimed for cancellation of Thomas Pink's trade mark registrations, claiming both non-distinctiveness (the word 'pink' is obviously descriptive for clothing) and non-use for a period of five years or more.

The counterclaim was dismissed. As for non-distinctiveness, Judge Birrs was satisfied that Thomas Pink had been able to establish acquired distinctiveness of the descriptive word 'pink', in other words distinctiveness derived from considerable use of the trade mark. As for non-use, the judge was satisfied that, even though the trade marks that had been used were not exactly the same as the trade marks that were registered, they were close enough. The judge said this: 'Proprietors do not always and consistently use a mark in precisely the form as registered. This is recognised in s. 46(2)... which permits minor variations to be taken into account in order to avoid revocation of the mark.'

So how about infringement? It's important to note that there were various different types of use that Thomas Pink objected to: use of Pink as the name of stores; use of Pink directly on clothing; and use of Pink on swing-tags which also featured the trade mark Victoria's Secret, as in Victoria's Secret - Pink. The judge held that the use of Pink as the name of stores did infringe the class 35 registration, despite the fact that some of the Pink stores were alongside Victoria's Secret stores and could, in some cases, even be accessed from within Victoria's Secret stores. He also held that use of Pink directly on clothing infringed the class 25 registration. But when it came to the use of Pink on swing-tags in conjunction with Victoria's Secret, there was no infringement because there was no likelihood of confusion.

So, a likelihood of confusion in certain cases but not in others. Nothing too radical there – it's quite likely that a South African court would've come to the same finding. But then the judge moved on to dilution, an area where we've been left behind.

The judge started off by pointing out that dilution consists of four elements: the registered trade mark must enjoy a reputation; consumers must draw a link between the trade marks; the party who's charged with dilution must not have 'due cause'; and the owner of the registered trade mark must suffer detriment.

The judge found that the reputation was definitely there. As for the link, the judge accepted that people seeing the use of Pink by Victoria's Secret would draw a link with Thomas Pink, even in the case of the swing-tags, where they wouldn't be confused. As for due cause, Victoria's Secret was unable to show any due cause for its use of Pink – the fact that it was expanding a US brand into the EU was not due cause, and the fact that the two parties' trade marks had co-existed in the USA for many years was not relevant.

Which left detriment. The judge found that there would be detriment to repute, because Victoria's Secret – which is associated with sexiness and sauciness – has a very different image from that enjoyed by Thomas Pink. He said that there was a risk that Thomas Pink would be 'associated  with a mass market offering reducing its luxurious reputation... there is every risk that this will lead consumers not to buy products from the claimant that they would otherwise have done.' This, said the judge, meets the 'change in economic behaviour' on the part of consumers that's required for dilution in terms of previous EU cases like the famous case of Intel.

As I said earlier, this part of the judgment is almost academic for us in South Africa. Yes, our law does recognise dilution, and in fact the wording of our dilution legislation is very similar to the wording of the dilution provisions in the UK and the EU. Yet in South Africa the dilution section has been interpreted in such a way as to require more than a mere change in economic behaviour on the part of consumers, but a likelihood of economic loss. We've been saddled with this ever since brewing giant, SAB, took a satirist to court over t-shirts that commented on the company's perceived historical labour practices by altering the famous Black Label logo to Black Labour. Something the South African Constitutional Court held did not lead to any economic loss, and therefore did not dilute the Black Label trade mark registrations.

I'll leave you with the words of Judge Louis Harms who was, until his recent retirement, the leading IP judge in South Africa: 'The Constitutional Court, in upholding this defence on very broad free expression terms and by requiring proof of actual loss inadvertently eroded dilution as a cause of action ... its jurisprudence is at complete variance with that of the developed world.'

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

To print this article, all you need is to be registered on

Click to Login as an existing user or Register so you can print this article.

Some comments from our readers…
“The articles are extremely timely and highly applicable”
“I often find critical information not available elsewhere”
“As in-house counsel, Mondaq’s service is of great value”

Mondaq Advice Centre (MACs)
Up-coming Events Search
Font Size:
Mondaq on Twitter
Register for Access and our Free Biweekly Alert for
This service is completely free. Access 250,000 archived articles from 100+ countries and get a personalised email twice a week covering developments (and yes, our lawyers like to think you’ve read our Disclaimer).
Email Address
Company Name
Confirm Password
Mondaq Topics -- Select your Interests
 Law Performance
 Law Practice
 Media & IT
 Real Estate
 Wealth Mgt
Asia Pacific
European Union
Latin America
Middle East
United States
Worldwide Updates
Check to state you have read and
agree to our Terms and Conditions

Terms & Conditions and Privacy Statement (the Website) is owned and managed by Mondaq Ltd and as a user you are granted a non-exclusive, revocable license to access the Website under its terms and conditions of use. Your use of the Website constitutes your agreement to the following terms and conditions of use. Mondaq Ltd may terminate your use of the Website if you are in breach of these terms and conditions or if Mondaq Ltd decides to terminate your license of use for whatever reason.

Use of

You may use the Website but are required to register as a user if you wish to read the full text of the content and articles available (the Content). You may not modify, publish, transmit, transfer or sell, reproduce, create derivative works from, distribute, perform, link, display, or in any way exploit any of the Content, in whole or in part, except as expressly permitted in these terms & conditions or with the prior written consent of Mondaq Ltd. You may not use electronic or other means to extract details or information about’s content, users or contributors in order to offer them any services or products which compete directly or indirectly with Mondaq Ltd’s services and products.


Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers make no representations about the suitability of the information contained in the documents and related graphics published on this server for any purpose. All such documents and related graphics are provided "as is" without warranty of any kind. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers hereby disclaim all warranties and conditions with regard to this information, including all implied warranties and conditions of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, title and non-infringement. In no event shall Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers be liable for any special, indirect or consequential damages or any damages whatsoever resulting from loss of use, data or profits, whether in an action of contract, negligence or other tortious action, arising out of or in connection with the use or performance of information available from this server.

The documents and related graphics published on this server could include technical inaccuracies or typographical errors. Changes are periodically added to the information herein. Mondaq Ltd and/or its respective suppliers may make improvements and/or changes in the product(s) and/or the program(s) described herein at any time.


Mondaq Ltd requires you to register and provide information that personally identifies you, including what sort of information you are interested in, for three primary purposes:

  • To allow you to personalize the Mondaq websites you are visiting.
  • To enable features such as password reminder, newsletter alerts, email a colleague, and linking from Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to your website.
  • To produce demographic feedback for our information providers who provide information free for your use.

Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) do not sell or provide your details to third parties other than information providers. The reason we provide our information providers with this information is so that they can measure the response their articles are receiving and provide you with information about their products and services.

If you do not want us to provide your name and email address you may opt out by clicking here .

If you do not wish to receive any future announcements of products and services offered by Mondaq by clicking here .

Information Collection and Use

We require site users to register with Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) to view the free information on the site. We also collect information from our users at several different points on the websites: this is so that we can customise the sites according to individual usage, provide 'session-aware' functionality, and ensure that content is acquired and developed appropriately. This gives us an overall picture of our user profiles, which in turn shows to our Editorial Contributors the type of person they are reaching by posting articles on Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) – meaning more free content for registered users.

We are only able to provide the material on the Mondaq (and its affiliate sites) site free to site visitors because we can pass on information about the pages that users are viewing and the personal information users provide to us (e.g. email addresses) to reputable contributing firms such as law firms who author those pages. We do not sell or rent information to anyone else other than the authors of those pages, who may change from time to time. Should you wish us not to disclose your details to any of these parties, please tick the box above or tick the box marked "Opt out of Registration Information Disclosure" on the Your Profile page. We and our author organisations may only contact you via email or other means if you allow us to do so. Users can opt out of contact when they register on the site, or send an email to with “no disclosure” in the subject heading

Mondaq News Alerts

In order to receive Mondaq News Alerts, users have to complete a separate registration form. This is a personalised service where users choose regions and topics of interest and we send it only to those users who have requested it. Users can stop receiving these Alerts by going to the Mondaq News Alerts page and deselecting all interest areas. In the same way users can amend their personal preferences to add or remove subject areas.


A cookie is a small text file written to a user’s hard drive that contains an identifying user number. The cookies do not contain any personal information about users. We use the cookie so users do not have to log in every time they use the service and the cookie will automatically expire if you do not visit the Mondaq website (or its affiliate sites) for 12 months. We also use the cookie to personalise a user's experience of the site (for example to show information specific to a user's region). As the Mondaq sites are fully personalised and cookies are essential to its core technology the site will function unpredictably with browsers that do not support cookies - or where cookies are disabled (in these circumstances we advise you to attempt to locate the information you require elsewhere on the web). However if you are concerned about the presence of a Mondaq cookie on your machine you can also choose to expire the cookie immediately (remove it) by selecting the 'Log Off' menu option as the last thing you do when you use the site.

Some of our business partners may use cookies on our site (for example, advertisers). However, we have no access to or control over these cookies and we are not aware of any at present that do so.

Log Files

We use IP addresses to analyse trends, administer the site, track movement, and gather broad demographic information for aggregate use. IP addresses are not linked to personally identifiable information.


This web site contains links to other sites. Please be aware that Mondaq (or its affiliate sites) are not responsible for the privacy practices of such other sites. We encourage our users to be aware when they leave our site and to read the privacy statements of these third party sites. This privacy statement applies solely to information collected by this Web site.

Surveys & Contests

From time-to-time our site requests information from users via surveys or contests. Participation in these surveys or contests is completely voluntary and the user therefore has a choice whether or not to disclose any information requested. Information requested may include contact information (such as name and delivery address), and demographic information (such as postcode, age level). Contact information will be used to notify the winners and award prizes. Survey information will be used for purposes of monitoring or improving the functionality of the site.


If a user elects to use our referral service for informing a friend about our site, we ask them for the friend’s name and email address. Mondaq stores this information and may contact the friend to invite them to register with Mondaq, but they will not be contacted more than once. The friend may contact Mondaq to request the removal of this information from our database.


This website takes every reasonable precaution to protect our users’ information. When users submit sensitive information via the website, your information is protected using firewalls and other security technology. If you have any questions about the security at our website, you can send an email to

Correcting/Updating Personal Information

If a user’s personally identifiable information changes (such as postcode), or if a user no longer desires our service, we will endeavour to provide a way to correct, update or remove that user’s personal data provided to us. This can usually be done at the “Your Profile” page or by sending an email to

Notification of Changes

If we decide to change our Terms & Conditions or Privacy Policy, we will post those changes on our site so our users are always aware of what information we collect, how we use it, and under what circumstances, if any, we disclose it. If at any point we decide to use personally identifiable information in a manner different from that stated at the time it was collected, we will notify users by way of an email. Users will have a choice as to whether or not we use their information in this different manner. We will use information in accordance with the privacy policy under which the information was collected.

How to contact Mondaq

You can contact us with comments or queries at

If for some reason you believe Mondaq Ltd. has not adhered to these principles, please notify us by e-mail at and we will use commercially reasonable efforts to determine and correct the problem promptly.