Word has reached Fashionista that womenswear retailer Hobbs is set to launch its new NW3 sub-brand this autumn with a view to attracting a younger and mother-and-daughter clientele. Her fashionable friends need no reminder that "NW3" is the old postal district for lovely, leafy, highly cultured Hampstead (the highest spot in north London) where Hobbs' first store opened. with 22 shops and an online presence, NW3 comes out with 90 pieces, rising to 120 pieces.
NW3 has not been officially used as a postal district since 1974, when the 15-year roll-out of United Kingdom postcodes was completed (how slowly things happened in the days before computers), so some Hobbs mums might recall its use but their daughters probably wouldn't.
The big issue troubling Fashionista is whether postal districts are registrable as trade marks. Hobbs (now of rather less fashionable NW1) has applied for registration of a series of two marks and its application has since been advertised. The company may have been advised to go for 'HOBBS NW3' and 'hobbs nw3' just in case NW3 by itself is regarded as descriptive (of goods coming from NW3), deceptive (for goods coming from elsewhere) or just plain lacking in distinctiveness. Either way, what's the betting that within no time the brand, if successful, will be shortened to 'NW3' to distinguish from Hobbs' non-NW3 range. This too has legal repercussions: a mark that is not used in the form in which it's registered might be vulnerable to revocation for non-use, but the constant use of 'NW3' by itself might earn it enough distinctiveness to be registrable in its own right. Strange things, trade marks!