Colonial Trademark: Law and Nationality in Mandate Palestine, 1922-48

Michael Birnhack*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review


Trademark law protects distinctive signs of products against unauthorized uses. It is a legal tool to enhance market efficiency by conveying information about the origin of goods to consumers. Trademarks are also carriers of cultural information about the manufacturers, their products, and their message to the consumers. Thus, trademarks provide an unexpected reflection on society. This article explores the history of trademark law in Mandate Palestine, from the enactment of the first law to the end of the mandate (1922-48) in three cumulative avenues. First, a legal history analysis is provided, which seeks to understand why the British imposed trademark law at the time and manner they chose and how it was received by the local communities. Second, an empirical study of trademark data is given that reveals why the original trademark registry did not survive and how it was reconstructed for the current study. Trademark data offer an understudied and rich resource indicating economic changes and the reception of the law. Third, a semiotic analysis is provided that examines the trademarks themselves, focusing on local trademarks. Nationality is the common thread in these inquiries. The research reveals the differential reception of the British trademark law, with the Jewish population embracing it and the Arab-Palestinian population being much less receptive to it. The Jewish traders often used trademarks to convey national Zionist messages.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-225
Number of pages34
JournalLaw and Social Inquiry
Issue number1
Early online date7 Sep 2020
StatePublished - Feb 2021


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