Slaw readers may have seen the article in the Tuesday Globe and Mail pointing out that Toronto art dealer Lynda M. Shearer holds a trade mark in the phrases “painters eleven” and “painters 11” set to be registered today. The phrase, however spelled, has been used to describe the group of artists that included Harold Town and Jack Bush ever since it was formed in 1954. (The first Globe and Mail reference I could find was on February 13, 1954: “Abstract art claims major attention in the Toronto art scene this weekend, and a new group of abstractionists called Painters Eleven enters the field” etc.) Now, however, Shearer and her husband business partner, are said in the Globe story to have told Iris Nowell, Harold Town’s companion, that her forthcoming book, Painters Eleven: The Wild Ones of Canadian Art, is in violation of their mark.
I don’t know enough about trade marks to know whether and when it’s possible for entrepreneurs to cloak themselves in a word or phrase that until then was fairly common coin such that it can become their trade mark, and I would be interested to learn what our IP experts out there think about this. It would be curious if one could simply appropriate terms like “cubist” or “kitchen sink school” or “angry young men” that have been applied to groups of artists of one sort or another. It might make sense if one had a more-or-less exclusive right to deal in the group’s output, but that’s not the case with the Shearers.