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The trademarks of Milan and its cathedral

The name of a state or city generally cannot be registered as a trademark. However, It is true that there is no explicit and general prohibition against the registration of city names as trademarks.

At present, such a prohibition only applies at European level in relation to agri-food products (PDO, PGI, TSG), and, effective 01 December 2025, there will also be a prohibition for craft and industrial products (Carrara marble, Murano glass, Grottaglie ceramics, etc.).

This system in Italy is flanked by the municipal name (De.Co) for the identification of products with a municipal designation, which, in 2023, the Constitutional Court qualified as simple geographical indications, and therefore they are not comparable to a trademark or a sign for the protection of the product. For this reason, they do not overlap with European and international sources.

Registering the name of a European capital city (e.g. Rome, London, Paris), a street (e.g. Corso Como, Montenapoleone), or even of state as a trademark, while not finding an explicit limitation in national or supranational legislation, will result in a setback in the rules governing the principles of lawfulness of the trademark that protect the public from the risk of being misled about quality, nature, and place of origin of designated goods or services.

Some cities are absolutely known to the public all over the world and cannot be considered ‘weak’ signs, so a few ‘make-up operations’ on the graphics are enough to make the name distinctive. However, the proof of ‘secondary mining’ remains unaffected for the owner of the sign.

A trademark not only has a function of origin but also, increasingly, it has an advertising, reputational ,and commercial strategy function. It is within this framework of rules and communication strategy that the municipality of Milan is close to publishing a legal regulation for the registration of trademarks containing the name ‘Milano’. The aim will be to ensure: i) an effective connection with the territory, and ii) a positive image of the city of Milan.

Milan is identified not only by its name as a famous European city, but also by its visual association with the city’s iconic buildings and landmarks such as the Duomo and the Madonnina, the names of which, for example, use is not free. The Veneranda Fabbrica del Duomo di Milano (an ecclesiastical body which is a legal entity) is the owner of the relevant trademarks, and various stylisations of the Duomo façade are also registered.

Another point to remember is that the International Olympic Committee has already filed the trademark ‘Milano Cortina 2026’ for the next Winter Olympics in 2026.

These limited examples shows how complicated it can be today to obtain registration of trademarks containing the word ‘Milan' or its symbols.

29 March 2024

Mariagiulia Signori

Sofiae - Chartered Accountants & Lawyers, Partner | Lawyer

Sofiae - Chartered Accountants & Lawyers