In December of 2013, GM’s Germany-based subsidiary Opel filed two trademark applications with the United States Patent and Trademark Office. One of the filings was for the word Cascada, while the other was for Calibra. The Cascada is effectively a cabriolet variant of the Opel Astra and is primarily sold in Europe, while the Calibra name hasn’t been used on a vehicle for years, but is rumored to be resurrected for an upcoming midsize coupe — a two-door Insignia, if you will. The news was interesting on multiple accounts: for starters, it was Opel that filed the trademarks, rather than parent General Motors. And the mere fact that a German firm that doesn’t have a presence in the U.S. was submitting requests with a United States government agency made it that much more engrossing. The end result was all kinds of speculation and rumormongering surrounding what was most definitely a secret GM strategy to launch Opel, the Cascada, or the Calibra in the U.S. We’re here to put those thoughts to rest.
You see, Opel occupies a special role within General Motors, as it is both a brand and an operating unit — with full-fledged design, engineering, manufacturing, logistics, and administrative operations. In that regard, it’s analogous to being a company within a company. The only other entity that’s set up in a similar fashion is Holden in Australia. This kind of firm-within-a-firm org structure is in stark contrast to the way General Motors treats Chevrolet, Buick, GMC, and Cadillac — which are all treated like brands within GM, with GM proper handling engineering, manufacturing, logistics, and administrative operations. Sure, there are Cadillac and Chevrolet designers and marketers, but that’s the extent of the brand autonomy. All that is to say that Opel is in a very unique position of not only being a brand, but also an operating unit within The General.
As it stands, one of the realities of Opel being an operating unit and having its own administrative operations is that it gets to file for certain aspects of intellectual property (such as trademarks) by itself. In other words, Opel is the owner of trademarks related to its products, including Adam, Corsa, Astra, Insignia, Mokka, Antara, Meriva, Zafira, and others. Since GM owns Opel, and Opel registers intellectual property by itself (as necessary for business functions), The General is the ultimate owner of the trademarks… but from what a patent/trademark office sees, Opel is the ultimate owner of the intellectual property. Not GM.
Keeping that in mind, allow us to introduce something called the Madrid Protocol. Part of a larger Madrid System, the Madrid Protocol is one of two treaties for the international registration of trademarks. It’s a filing treaty that provides a cost-effective and efficient way for trademark holders to ensure protection for their marks in multiple countries by filing a single application with a single office, in a single language, with a single set of fees, and in a single currency. The purpose of the Madrid Protocol is efficiency, plain and simple.
So, being the legal owner of the trademarks behind its vehicles, Opel simply elected to file the Cascada and Calibra trademark applications with the USPTO thanks to the simplicity and efficiency provided by the Madrid Protocol. The alternative would have been to file countless identical applications with other intellectual property houses all over the world, but to do so in multiple languages, while paying multiple application fees for each.
Thus, Opel’s applying for the trademarks with the USPTO is simply a matter of convenience, and most definitely does not suggest that the Cascada or the Calibra will be introduced in the United States, but it doesn’t necessarily prevent GM from making the vehicles available in the New World with a Buick badge. In order for that to happen, and the Cascada and Calibra names to remain, GM and Opel would need to do some trademark rights finagling (such as Opel licensing the names to GM proper). Alternatively, GM can simply give the Buick variants different names altogether — as it is currently doing with the Regal (Opel Insignia), Verano (Opel Astra), and Encore (Opel Mokka)
Time will tell which direction The General ends up taking.