Among the many notable obituaries of 2016, one that caught our eye was Whitney Smith’s in The Economist (here). Whitney Smith was the world’s greatest expert on flags, or ‘vexillology’ – a term which he coined, derived from the Latin for a military standard.
Dating back at least 5,000 years, flags are in many ways precursors to modern brands: a flag is no more a simple indicator of a state than a trade mark is a simple indicator of origin – both come freighted with the values, causes and cultures that the flag or the brand represents.
And, of course, flags and brands are both symbols which are protected by law, with provisions regulating how flags may or may not be used in registered trade marks. It’s an area of the law which doesn’t get much attention, but in the light of the political upheavals and growing nationalism of 2016, perhaps now more than ever we need to understand how these potent symbols shape – and are shaped by – our laws and culture.