On 26 May, Honda announced that the Japan Patent Office had granted a three-dimensional trademark registration for the shape of the company’s venerable Super Cub motor scooter. The decision may at last help Honda at last stem the tide of knock-off scooters that borrow the Super Cub's distinctive profile.

The Super Cub has been in production since 1958, and in that time, Honda has delivered close to 90m of them in 160 countries. Throughout, despite consistent functional upgrades, the basic shape of the bike has remained constant. “As a result,” reads the Honda press release, “it came to a point where most consumers who see the design of the Super Cub recognize it as a Honda product, and that became one of the determining factors for the Japan Patent Office to grant the trademark.”

Defending the newly trademarked Super Cub shape may prove somewhat trickier. The notion of trademark protection for three-dimensional products and packaging is relatively new, and cases defending the sanctity of familiar shapes can be long, expensive and inconclusive. Among the better-known trademarked shapes are McDonald’s Ronald McDonald clown, Coca-Cola’s curvaceous bottle and Rolls-Royce Motor Cars’ Spirit of Ecstasy figure.

Honda is the first carmaker in Japan to score trademark status for one of its products.

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