Iconic Red Umbrella Precipitates Trademark Infringement Suit

  • Trademark Clearance
Iconic Red Umbrella Precipitates Trademark Infringement Suit

Does this red umbrella look familiar?

That’s the Travelers Insurance red umbrella — the cornerstone of the company’s branding.

Last year, the Virtue Capital Management LLC (VCM), based in Nashville, Tennessee, started using a “reddish” umbrella logo to promote its products, prompting Travelers to file a trademark infringement suit against the company for adopting “confusingly similar umbrella logos of its own” for use in the financial services industry.

The Travelers’ lawsuit claims that VCM used the umbrellas from March 2016 through November 2016 and intended to file two trademark applications for logos featuring both a large and small umbrella.

VCM abandoned any efforts to trademark its umbrella logos in November 2016 and made some design changes to the images. The company replaced most of its small umbrella images with a parachute, but it replaced only the handle of its large umbrella logo with a box and added lines connecting the box to the umbrella.

Travelers then requested that VCM change its large umbrella image to a parachute, but VCM continued to use an umbrella. Now Travelers seeks to prohibit VCM from using umbrellas “and other designs, images, logos, icons, or marks in any way for any goods or services that are confusingly similar to or likely to dilute the Travelers umbrella mark.”

The red umbrella has quite a storied history. Travelers first used the umbrella in 1870. The insurance company merged with Citigroup in 1998 and when the two companies broke apart in 2002, the umbrella image remained with Citigroup. Citi later rebranded, and dropped the umbrella, which freed Travelers to purchase it in 2007. The price paid for that iconic logo hasn’t been revealed, but it’s been reported to be in the millions of dollars. At the time of the purchase, a Travelers executive said: “The recognition of the umbrella to the Travelers name was really quite remarkable.”

Since then, Travelers has actively fought to protect its trademark using cease-and-desist letters and trademark infringement suits. Earlier this year, Travelers sent a cease-and-desist to a UK company called Brolly, a startup with six staff members. Brolly ended up changing its logo. In 2015, Travelers filed a trademark infringement suit against Farmers Group Inc., which at that time was marketing “umbrella insurance.” And in 2013, Travelers sued British financial services and insurance company Legal & General Group PLC and its US affiliates to stop using an umbrella-shaped mark.