Veldskoen shoes have been an iconic part of South African footwear for a very long time.

According to Wikipedia:

“Veldskoene (or vellies, alternately velskoen) are Southern African walking shoes made from vegetable-tanned leather or soft rawhide uppers attached to a leather footbed and rubber sole without tacks or nails.  The name comes from Afrikaans vel (“skin”) (later assimilated to veld (“field”)) and skoene (“shoes”). They were first made by the Dutch East India Co. in the 17th century by the first Dutch settlers in South Africa. Their design is believed to be based on the traditional Khoisan footwear observed by these settlers. The footwear was later embedded into the Afrikaans psyche when velskoene were used as the footwear of the Great Trek. Easy to make, lightweight and extremely tough, vellies could withstand the harsh conditions of the great migration north. Vellies became part of South African, Zimbabwean (previously Rhodesian) and Namibian society, worn by all classes and professions but favoured by farmers and safari guides.”

A recent start-up company, Field Shoes International (Pty) Ltd, has successfully tapped into people’s love of these shoes and has been successfully marketing them to a wide variety of customers. It has done this by developing good quality, fun shoes based on the Veldskoen concept. The market has successfully embraced them, with various exciting prospects for this company. Their shoes can be seen at www.veldskoenshoes.com and are worth looking at. They are great shoes which will hopefully enjoy much success.

This interest attracted the attention of Bruce Whitfield of the Money Show on 702 Talk Radio who interviewed Nick Dreyer of Field Shoes International (Pty) Ltd. In this interview, Nick claimed ownership of “Veldskoen” as a brand. He said he was surprised that he could do this but said that it turns out that a person can “register “Table” for tables” as a trade mark.

In terms of the Trade Marks Act, this is fundamentally wrong – and this is fatal for meaningful trade mark protection.

One of the basic requirements of trade mark registration (as set out in the Trade Marks Act) is that a trade mark must be distinctive.

Currently, according to the trade mark office records, Field Shoes International (Pty) Ltd has a trade mark registration for shoes for the following trade mark:

This is trade mark registration number 2017/20566.

This is however subject to the disclaimer that “Registration of this trade mark shall give no right to the exclusive use of the words “VELDSKOEN”, “SOLE” and “SOUTH AFRICA”, separately and apart from each other and apart from the mark.”

In other words, this trade mark registration does not protect “VELDSKOEN” at all. It only gives protection to the mark as a whole (ie the combination of the parts). This trade mark registration has given him no meaningful rights to VELDSKOEN.

With all the opportunities this company has, it must not get this basic and critical aspect wrong. This common mistake must also be avoided by all start-ups and other companies developing new brands.

When developing a brand, it is critical, from a trade mark perspective, to add a distinctive element to any generic mark and create an individual, unique trade mark. All companies starting up new brands must always be aware of this and must ensure that their marks are distinctive.

Creativity and originality are protected by the Trade Mark Act when the mark is registered as a trade mark. This allows a company to enjoy protection for its distinctive brand and helps it develop into an iconic brand.

Bruce Lister

21 October 2019