Target has a twin in Australia, but they're not related

  • Article by: THOMAS LEE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: August 24, 2013 - 9:21 PM

The Minneapolis-based retailer says it has no relationship with Target Australia, even though the two companies share the same name and bull's-eye logo.

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Target Australia, owned by Wesfarmers Ltd., uses the same logo as the American Target and a similar motto.

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If Target Corp. had a twin in a parallel universe, that retailer might carry the same name, logo and slogan and operate on the opposite side of the alternative Earth. Say, Australia.

As it turns out, Target’s Down Under doppelgänger is quite real. Target Australia not only sports the same red and white bull’s-eye logo but also a motto that reads “Get More. Pay Less.”

Sound familiar?

Target officials in Minneapolis, though, want to make something abundantly clear: The two retailers are completely different companies.

“Target Corp. has no affiliation with Target Australia,” said company spokesman Eric Hausman. “There is no relationship between our companies.”

And lest you think that some opportunistic Aussie opened a cheesy knockoff store in the remote outback, Target Australia operates 300 stores in major cities and suburbs across the island nation. Last year, the retail chain generated $3.7 billion in revenue, according to financial documents from corporate parent Wesfarmers.

The similarities are so strong between the Targets that people sometimes confuse the two, a problem that might get worse as U.S. Target further expands across the globe. Earlier this year, Target opened its first stores in Canada, the first time the company has ventured beyond its American borders.

A spokeswoman for Wesfarmers did not return phone calls seeking comment. Founded in 1919 as a farmers cooperative, Wesfarmers has grown into one of Australia’s largest companies with over $57 billion in revenue in 2012. The company owns everything from supermarkets and department stores to makers of fertilizer and industrial equipment.

So this naturally brings up the question of how two retailers from opposite sides of the world ended up with the same identity.

In general, trademarks are local matters, meaning a company can protect its trademark only on a country-by-country basis. In other words, although a brand like Apple obviously owns its name in the United States, it must file a separate trademark claim in each country where it does business. That, of course, inevitably leads to conflict if another company already has rights to the same name in that country.

“In a global economy, these are very arcane laws,” said Maria Savio, an attorney with intellectual property law firm Gottlieb, Rackman & Reisman in New York.

For example, Apple could not sell Beatles music on iTunes for a long time because of opposition from the British firm, also named Apple, controlled the rights to the songs and was not too happy about the identical names.

Such disputes are usually resolved with one company agreeing to license the name from the other. Although the two Targets don’t (yet) directly compete with each other, experts say the companies must have reached some kind of deal given the strong similarity in their trademarks.

Otherwise, “it would seem like a strange coincidence they came up with the same name and logo,” said Erik Pelton, who owns a boutique law firm in Virginia that specializes in trademark protection.

In truth, the similar trademarks were neither fully the result of a coincidence nor a formal business deal.

Born out of Dayton Hudson Corp., Target opened its first store in Roseville in 1962. Four years later, the discount retailer filed its first trademark claim and then another claim in 1967 that covered its bull’s-eye logo, according to documents with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. A year later, Target Australia, then known as Lindsay’s Target Pty Ltd., adopted the Target name.

Hausman said Target never licensed anything to the retailer. Instead, the founders of each company “had a conversation” at that time, he said, without specifying what was actually said.

In addition to Target, Wesfarmers also operates a retail chain called Kmart with a similar logo to the Kmart owned by Sears Holdings Corp. in the United States.

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  • Target isn’t the only U.S. brand Wesfarmers Ltd. appears to use to its advantage. Australia’s second-largest retailer also has businesses under the names of Kmart, Coles, Woolworths, Officeworks and Costco.

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