Specsavers is trying to trademark the word 'should've'
Rival opticians might have seen it coming but high street glasses chain Specsavers has applied to trademark the words “should’ve” and “shouldve” in an attempt to protect its slogan.
The company’s advertising features topical events or people finding themselves in embarrassing situations because they have forgotten their glasses accompanied by the words “Should’ve gone to Specsavers”.
If the application is successful it could mean the international optician chain can block other companies from using the world in their advertising – potentially taking a common word out of the advertising lexicon.
Privately held Specsavers - which was launched in 1984 by husband and wife team Doug and Mary Perkins and now has 1,750 stores in 10 countries turning over £1.5bn a year – started using the slogan in 2003.
Since then it has run hundreds of adverts under the catchphrase, and earlier this year recruited John Cleese to reprise his role as Basil Fawlty, who famously gave a “damn good thrashing” to his Austin 1100 car with a tree branch when it broke down in the sitcom Fawlty Towers.
In the updated version, his lack of glasses saw the comedian launching a frenzied attack on a police car that had been called to the scene.
Documents from the UK Intellectual Property Office show Specsavers applied for the trademarks on July 18. The body approved the application and there is now a two-month waiting period to allow third parties to object.
The application has raised eyebrows among legal experts.
Tania Clark, partner and trade mark attorney at intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers, said: “It is surprising the Office has accepted this trademark for a single word, which is a verb in common usage.
“While such registrations are not impossible to obtain, it means that the retailer could soon have the right to exclude others from using ‘should’ve’ or ‘shouldve’ when communicating about certain classes of goods, including optician services, medical hearing aids and eyewear.
“This monopoly right could make life extremely difficult for rivals.”
The legal expert also warned that it could encourage other companies to try to secure trademarks on words.
“We would expect more brand owners to try to obtain a registration for a single word used in their advertising or marketing campaigns in the future. After all, the ability to exclusively own the right to use a commonly-used word in your communications activity is an incredibly powerful marketing tool.”
Brewer Carlsberg set a precedent more than 20 years ago when it successfully registered the world “probably” as a trademark, having used it extensively in its “Probably the best lager in the world” advertising strapline.
This is not the first time Specsavers has turned to the law to protect its image. In 2009 Asda relaunched its optician business with a green logo that looked similar to Specsavers’, and the retailer giant also used the slogans “Be a real spec saver at Asda” and “Spec savings at Asda”.
Specsavers sued for on a range of grounds including trademark infringement and “passing off”, a battle which it largely won – but not before a five-year legal fight and the involvement of the Court of Justice of the European Union.
Specsavers was not available to comment.