Wednesday. 12/2/2020

The Monocle Minute

Opinion / Jamie Waters

Bagging rights

Can a small plastic ziplock bag – of the sort that you fill with cosmetics while queuing for airport security – be trademarked? In an ongoing case that has received considerable internet scrutiny, the New York makeup brand Glossier is arguing that you can. It’s applying to the US Patent and Trademark Office to prevent anyone copying its signature candy-pink, bubble-wrapped ziplock bags.

Setting the legal arguments aside for a moment, Glossier does have a point. For the relevant demographic, this particular shade of plastic pouch has become a status symbol that is inextricably linked with the juggernaut brand, which was recently valued at $1.3bn (€1.2bn).

This example feeds into a proliferation of trademark cases in fashion and other consumer sectors, including alcohol. A recent global report by research firm CompuMark revealed that there have never been so many trademark applications (or infringements). This is perhaps a testament to the fact that, in an era when social media facilitates easy cross-pollination and copying of ideas, it’s ever-more difficult to create something unique (just think of how bizarre new brand names have become). So when a company does create something unique, it wants to hold on to it.

Call-out culture – shaming other brands for copying products – has become rife, especially on Instagram. At times it can verge on pettiness. But Glossier has made something genuinely distinctive in its packaging – and without having to slap a big logo on it, either. Surely that’s worth fighting for.

Elections / USA

Knocking on the door

After one of the most closely fought New Hampshire primary races in recent memory, Bernie Sanders, the progressive senator from Vermont, has claimed victory by a narrow margin, reversing his wafer-thin defeat by the former mayor of South Bend, Pete Buttigieg, at last week’s Iowa caucuses. But it is Amy Klobuchar (pictured), the US senator from Minnesota, who scored the biggest surprise so far in the race to become the Democratic party’s presidential candidate by placing a strong third behind Sanders and Buttigieg, who both went into the primary as frontrunners. Klobuchar appeals to centre-ground voters and appears to have stolen supporters from former vice-president Joe Biden, who has performed poorly so far. The result means that the mantle of moderate Democratic candidate to take on Donald Trump in November’s election remains up for grabs as the race moves on to Nevada and South Carolina’s far more diverse electorates. Biden will now stake his entire campaign on those two contests as his support among African-Americans remains strong. Biden’s strategy could give him a chance: in this volatile political climate, many of the old rules of the presidential primary cycle might not apply.

Diplomacy / Africa

Currying favour

Justin Trudeau (pictured) arrived yesterday in Senegal as part of an extended trip to Africa that, on Sunday, saw him become the first Canadian leader to attend an African Union meeting. Canada’s prime minister is courting African votes in hopes of pipping Norway and Ireland to securing a temporary seat on the UN Security Council; the African Union has 54 voting members in the UN. While Canada’s government admits that the trip is designed in part to drum up support, it says that Trudeau is also there to improve ties. But with the UN vote slated for June, his efforts might prove too little too late.

According to critics, Trudeau’s first term saw few attempts to improve diplomatic or economic relations with African countries; deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland didn’t even visit Africa during her three years as foreign minister. Norway’s prime minister, on the other hand, attended last year’s African Union meeting, while Ireland launched its Africa Strategy in 2011. Canada has some catching up to do.

Urbanism / Bangkok

Troubled waters

City authorities in Bangkok have grand ambitions to develop the Thai capital’s Chao Phraya River, with plans for road and rail tunnels beneath the river to ease congestion. Above ground, though, it’s a different story. A court ruling last week forced the Bangkok Metropolitan Administration (BMA) to halt work on a €240m project to build a promenade along the river. Urban planners and environmentalists raised objections because the plans would reduce the width of the waterway by up to 20 metres. The court classified the proposed promenade as a building (rather than a pier), meaning that the BMA must now submit a blueprint for a more rigorous approval process before proceeding. While efforts to open up the river to the public should be championed in traffic-clogged Bangkok, it’s only right that such a landmark – and land-altering – project is closely scrutinised.

Design / Japan

Blue-sky thinking

Spending hours in a dingy office is never good for morale or physical wellbeing. So Mitsubishi Electric has announced a potential solution for the deskbound office worker: fake skylights. The Misola LED lighting system, which will launch in October, comprises ceiling panels that mimic the deep blue colour of a clear sky. The panels adjust throughout the day to match changes in natural light. Mitsubishi says that marking the passing of the day in this way will improve conditions in offices but the company also believes that the system could be used in welfare facilities and hospitals. Misola can light a room as well as any fluorescent tube but does so by using low-energy LEDs, which don’t emit a deadening white light. Of course, this ingenious set-up suggests, perhaps, that workers should simply be encouraged to spend less time inside. A lunchtime picnic on a sunny day in Japan will lift anyone’s spirits.

M24 / The Menu

Food Neighbourhoods 171: Bangalore, Central Business District

Monocle’s Tiya Thomas-Alexander takes us to one of South India’s most populated cities for a tour of its top food and drink discoveries.

Monocle Films / Madrid

My life as a minibus

We hop aboard the M1 in Madrid to see how the nifty Wolta Rampini offers a helping hand to those who need it most: residents in the steep, historic borough of Lavapiés.

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